spring garden music

Jack and Ben Wright



This duo didn't begin when Ben was in the womb, but it could have, given the close playing between father and son. Many parent musicians find their children are interested in a different music, and that was true for Ben's teenage years, when he was playing in a punk band. But for the last thirty-some years (Ben is 55, living in Taos NM) they have been on the same path of acoustic improvisation, and have been getting together as regularly as possible, given the distance between them.

A track from their release on Relative Pitch Records in 2014

A sample of the recording session Jan. 2013 in Taos NM here

Video at Connexions Gallery in Easton PA Nov. 2013, with Andrew Drury, percussion

Jack Wright is a veteran saxophone improviser based mainly in Philadelphia, regularly touring North America and Europe the past four decades and well known to improvisers. Continually seeking out interesting partners and playing situations, Wright is one of the originals of American free improv, and now at 81 he is still the "Johnny Appleseed of Free Improvisation," as the late Davey Williams (guitarist) called him in the 80s. His partners are mostly outside of music school careerdom, unknown to the music press, and selected for their ability to interconnect musically with each other (Discography) . His influence has extended through his book, The Free Musics. published in 2017. As for his playing, he's said to have the widest vocabulary of any, an expert at leaping pitches, punchy, precise timing, sharp and intrusive multiphonics, surprising gaps of silence, and sounds that range from the animalistic to electronic. A reviewer for the Washington Post said, "In the rarefied, underground world of experimental free improvisation, saxophonist Jack Wright is king." For more info--bio, writings, discography and sounds--go to Spring Garden Music. See also: Cadence Magazine Interview, July 2017, p. 55-73

Ben Wright from Dixon, New Mexico plays double bass. He cut his teeth in Philadelphia punk rock, and has since been working the double bass for 30 odd years, bolstered by intense spats of incidental formal training. A lover of the lowest frequencies, Ben has explored many disparate forms of music through the bass, yet always returns to the wellspring of improvisation. Currently, Ben plays with Irksome, Wind Up Birds, Radio Free Bassanda, poet John Biscello, Jack Wright, Dave Wayne, and assorted eclectic partners locally and nationally.

"I play music for the bliss of that instant when I lose consciousness of my surroundings, my instrument, and myself… there is only music. That is the crux where spontaneous creation between performers and audience is conceived."

For more info, write jackwri555 at gmail dot com


Review of a show in Albuquerque

Jack and Ben Wright Duo Live at The Tannex January 21st 2014 – A Free Jazz Concert Review

Almost immediately after becoming settled, I understood why no one noticed my late arrival; everyone was too transfixed on Jack and Ben Wright to notice. The crowed sat, stood, and drank coffee, but everywhere the overwhelming aura of musicians cluttered the room. Everyone there was happy to be present and had come with a purpose. This was not the kind of show that someone went into unprepared.

As I stood and swayed in the back of the room I was slowly lost in the nonexistent rhythms coming from the saxophone and bass. The two men fed off each other; lost in their own world. They gave off the appearance that they could not tell people were even watching them. As their set ebbed and flowed and finally ended I couldn’t have been more impressed by the seemingly accidental subtle coordination between the two instruments. When Jack went one way, Ben went the other, like they were anticipating the next move and knew exactly how to counteract it.

To wrap up the night, Jack Wright upped the ante. He called to the front another concert bass player and a tubist, and again they started. I was beyond delighted at the change of events. I myself am a tuba player who has been trying to integrate myself into free jazz and had never imagined being able to see another tuba player perform in this setting. The entire performance became quite a bit more intense with four musicians instead of just two. Four different trains of thought melted in and out of each other exposing different sounds before one idea felt finished. It was breathtaking. I was completely lost in the sound. I tried to guess where they would go next, but failed every time. The entire room resonated with the irregular sounds; the acoustics of The Tannex were perfect that night. Eventually the crowd was lifted from the trance when the final notes of the tuba faded away.

-----Patrick DeBonis

Reviews of the CD: As if Anything Could Be the Same

Dusted Magazine

Describing this music is difficult. The statement is not meant as the cop-out it most certainly is. After fifty years of evolving in whatever meager and scattered spotlight they’re afforded, the multifarious traditions that birthed the music on this duo disc are lumped together while the banner proclaiming “free improvisation” waves inadequately above them. 

Far too often, the skill and detail informing music such as this is neglected by writers attempting description, no matter how sympathetic, in favor of emotive exposition, essentially stripping the discourse of any freedom the music might offer. That’s what happens when an adequate vocabulary is, at best, in research and development phase. There’s no denying that Jack and Ben Wright plumb those psychosocial depths, but they accomplish it in a way that foregrounds something akin to linguistic expression, shoving historical precedent to a hot but distant back burner.

Take, for example, the point near the beginning of “Anything” (the track names are fragments of the album title) where Ben sustains an arco D, Jack an F a couple of octaves above it. Abstracted, and given the unified timbre the players achieve, this moment might have been lifted from a piece of “classical” chamber music, but the intertwined melodies that precede this instant of repose eschew the Western scale enough to make such a context meaningless. As that D decays and its overtones emerge, and as the F above it takes on the shimmer and shift a few changing microtones can provide, that elusive notion of freedom jumps front and center.

Ben and Jack have developed a pallet of timbres that appears limitless. These sonic explorations can serve “absolute” musical purposes, illuminating moments where Jack’s multiphonics are enhanced, almost completed, by Ben’s contributions way up in the highest register. At other times, metaphor becomes necessary for the befuddled writer to bring any semblance of clarity to a description.

Jack’s wildly varied articulations—pops, sibilants and half-aborted snaps—are often complemented by Ben’s waterfall pizzicato, arco rasps and some of the purest harmonics the bass can manufacture. Jack can coax heart-wrenching sighs from the saxophone in a way I’ve never heard from any other player, not to mention some astonishing growls and elephantine shrieks, but the music’s freedom resides in those interstices where sigh becomes tone. At 4:21 in “Could,” Jack concludes a long series of phrases with just such a note, and Ben seals the deal with a brief but final gesture, like the “yes” that ends Joyce’s Ulysses. As the title suggests, nothing can be quite the same after interaction so vibrant, dialogue capturing all of the fluency, spontaneity and even simplicity of a naturally evolving conversation. 

The acoustic is a strange one, but its bouncy reverberance amplifies each detail, sending it careening around the soundstage in a way that highlights without distraction. The recording is rich, full and just close enough. The few Ayler-esque moments Jack allows himself never distort, and all manner of dynamic shifts and shades are on display, a first-rate recording capturing equally excellent improvisation. 

Marc Medwin


AMN Reviews: February 5, 2014 by daniel barbiero

Saxophonist Jack Wright has been a force in free improvisation since devoting himself full-time to that discipline in 1979. During those thirty-five years he has taken an expansive view of what improvisation can be, and what kind of sound world a saxophone can create. His earlier efforts arose as a natural response to and continuation of the expressionistic free jazz of the 1960s, but a collaboration with Bhob Rainey in the late 1990s led him to reduce the volume and density of his sound, though not, paradoxically, the passion. Rather than abandoning one style for another, he has conserved and retained the sounds of all of his musical incarnations, with the result that he has been able to fashion a broad sonic vocabulary to draw on in any number of different improvisational contexts. He has also devoted himself to developing the music by reaching out to listeners, potential listeners, and fellow musicians through his frequent performances at venues of all sizes throughout the world. In this CD, a collaboration with his son Ben on double bass, his ecumenical approach to improvisation is on full display.

The disc opens with an energetic, texture-heavy statement on the bass, which is quickly joined by staccato notes from the soprano saxophone. The piece is full but at the same time is full of space. Here as in the other pieces the improvisation doesn’t follow a narrative arc but instead has more of the kind of color-based dynamic that painter Hans Hofmann described as “push-pull”: layered timbres creating a sense of sonic depth and movement. This can be heard to full advantage in Be, which overlaps squealing, popping and grunting sounds from the saxophone and struck strings, overpressure-bowing and brightly articulated tremolo from the bass. But despite the preponderance of color as a shaping element, a trace of expressionism can be found running throughout all five tracks as a kind of subterranean stream irrigating and feeding the growth above ground. But at times it comes to the fore, as in the plangent alto and overtone-laden bowed bass on the second track, or the moaning of both horn and bass at the beginning of The Same. Conversely, the kind of reductivist sound shaping that Wright has become known for is by no means absent from the disc. Nearly all the selections feature it to some extent, though it dominates the closing track.

What is notable about the Wrights’ approach to sound is the way it makes audible the physical confrontation of player and instrument. In fact, much of this is music that directly signals its origin in the body. The physicality of sound production—for example the inhalation and exhalation of the breath, the undertow of voice and the sonic signature of the lips which are so prominent in Could—makes itself felt at various points throughout the set.

This is a fine recording and comes very highly recommended.

Free Jazz Blog

By Paul Acquaro

I did a little internet research on this father and son duo before I cracked open their new CD as if anything could be the same. By the time I finally plunked it into my player and the music began I had already formed a rather positive feeling towards both musicians. I was taken by saxophonist Jack Wright's uncompromising story: his moves between the East Coast and the mountains of Colorado, his work in academia and subsequent move into performing free jazz, and enjoyed his DIY take on music and art. Bassist Ben Wright was a little harder to find out about, but even from the bits I read on Spring Garden, I found myself intrigued by his punk rock roots and current work out in New Mexico. 

So, I had really set my expectations up for this new album, and I wasn't disappointed. Restless and searching, as if anything could be the same is the outcome of two deeply connected musicians acting and reacting to each other with their instruments, unafraid to stretch boundaries. 

The tracks, improvisations broken up and named after each word of the album title, are each self contained showcases of free jazz experimentalism. The two musicians share a language comprised of staccato passages, breathy space, and intense workouts, that while unpredictable and full of surprises, is imbued with meaning and understanding. When Jack produces a percussive stanza, Ben responds in kind, not repeating it but acknowledging and proposing the next step.

It would almost be a futile, and certainly a long winded task to explain each track. Rather, it's suffice to say that the saxophonist and upright bassist work both within and outside their instrument's more traditional ranges and roles, often slipping into extended techniques and forms. They are always on equal ground, supporting and propelling each other through an eclectic, engaging and energetic set of free improvisations. In a way, it's everything I had expected from exploring the musicians bios but nothing like I had ever heard before. Highly recommended!


Percorsi Musicali

The best saxophonists of improvisation are those who have the courage to expose themselves. They often apply this principle with isolated evidences, in which they are able to convey to the audience the elective language of their music. "As if anything could be the same" is no exception to this rule, it is Wright's most technically advanced recording (with his son Ben that plays excellent on double bass).
Jack has a perfect knowledge of how to derive abstract structures of conversation, which tend to create correspondences between the interior of the instrument (alto and soprano sax) and shreds of expressive references; his goal is to set up an art dialogue punctuated by notes without phases, a way for to live their own identity. We identify several characters that seem to also follow the physical status of the saxophonist: the truncated phrasing (that is externalized in the standing position) identifies a situation of intolerance that often gives way to the emissions of sounds that resemble sobs or wailing (an aspect that Wright emphasizes while he's sitting with his head and sax tilted). That "puppet" is in search of deeper communication of his sax, also highlighting a sort of choking, especially when he raises the level of exploration of the instrument.



Touching Extremes

by Massimo Ricci

I genuinely loved my late pops. We could talk Roberto “Manos De Piedra” Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard no problem, but there was no way to let him understand why instrumentalists who play complexly (or less) from the depths of their guts-and-soul wiseness are finer musicians than mafia-protected Italian songsters selling millions of copies of cheaply strummed C/A min/Dmin/G singles (“Oh, you think you are a better guitarist than so-and-so, who’s number one on the Hit Parade?”). Hence my captivation with the father-son equation in an improvising context, as in this Wright-und-Wright duo. Of course it’s not an entirely new concept – Joe and Mat Maneri first come to mind – but the off-center appropriations of the unprocessed acoustic substance that surrounds the conversation going on in As If Anything Could Be The Same yield results that do not ask for a “channeling” into form, not to mention verbal depictions.

The dynamics at work are fairly removed from any sentiment of emotional arousal, broken-heartedness, masked intellectualism or whatever might be regularly connected to the “aesthetic” of resistance to genres. Simply and effectively, the Wrights catch notes, squeals, rubs, thunks, whispers and howls on the fly, exercising those fleeting physical phenomena with the determination of someone who has a single bullet left in the barrel and cannot afford to waste it. Meaning that each emission – even the seemingly trivial ones – contributes quite a lot to the music’s efficiency. We detect tensions and releases, the volition for playing at the maximum achievable stage of rational malleability but also the inflexibleness (admirable, in this case) of two men heading off phraseological commonplace like plague. There are reasons when – after approaching a record such as this one – a honest analyst utters a “now what?” before pushing the button for an indefinite amount of additional spins. An identical conclusion is reached every time: outstanding music, tangibly bedraggled when needed, erratically cultured a moment later. Still, you can’t put a finger on it; but it will place all of its fingers on you, consistently pinching the right spots.


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