Reference: FSRCD 692
Bar code: 8427328606929
John Wright was born in Louisville, KY., but musically he was a child of Chicagos fertile South Side jazz scene, were his family moved when he was a kid. He played soul piano, not because it was fashionable, but because it was part of his DNA.
Without much formal training, he naturally turned to the kind of music he was familiar with when he began to play himself, and that natural quality made South Side Soulhis first album, devoted entirely to 12-bar bluesa triumph for him, an uncommon musician who could create and sustain moods with the simplest of material. On Nice N Tasty and The Last Amen, also included here, he considerably expanded his own soul vein repertoire with some standards, while on Makin Out tenor saxophonist Eddie Cat-Eye Williams is added to the basic trio format on for a direct, uncluttered, propulsively swinging session. If the influence of Red Garland and Erroll Garner is detectable on his piano, John Wright remains emphatically his own man throughout these persuasively soulful and engaging albums.
-South Side Soul
"John Wright, who is now quite obscure, recorded four albums during 1960-61 that emphasized the souful side of hard bop. In a trio with bassist Wendell Roberts and drummer Walter McCants on his debut session [...] Wright performs seven of his originals, all of which have something to do with Chicago. On titles such as "South Side Soul," "Salle St. After Hours" and "Amen Corner," Wright plays soulfully while swinging."
Scott Yanow -All Music Guide
"Apparently few (if any) jazz fans are familiar with John Wright's early 60's albums-he's not listed in any of the jazz books I can find-so I thought I might try and bring some attention to his music. If you like the piano style of Red Garland (among others), this set is something you might want to check out. Some of these tunes rate a higher "star" rating than "3", and all are enjoyable. Besides, purchasing this collection is much cheaper than trying to find the individual albums. Wright's style (like Garland) is based in the blues-indeed, his first album as a leader ("South Side Soul") is full of 12-bar blues. But even when Wright throws in a few standards on subsequent albums, the blues are never really far away. But Wright can also swing when he feels the need. Three of the four albums are in a trio format, with one a quartet. All of the albums were recorded by Rudy Van Gelder in his studio, so the sound is as it should be-and that has carried over onto these discs. The 18 page booklet contains recording information, the original album liner notes, and replicas of the four album covers.
The first album, "South Side Soul" (1960), is (as the title suggests) full of soulful blues. But check out "63rd and Cottage Grove" for an example of Wright's up tempo playing. But on this album, to my ears, Wright is best on the slower tunes take your pick. His lyrical, unforced style really comes to the front as the music just unfolds in front of you. The rhythm section consists of Wendell Roberts-bass, and Walter McCant-drums. These long time local players add just the right touch for that soulful/blues feeling.
The second album, "Nice 'N' Tasty" (1960), finds Wright playing with Wendell Marshall-bass, and J.C. Heard-drums. While Wright's rhythm section on his first album was appropriate for the music, with Wright adding standards to his set, these long time master musicians add that certain something to the overall sound and feel of the music. Listen to "The Very Thought of You" for a good example of how Marshall and Heard blend seamlessly with Wright. Very nice indeed.
There are several fine tracks on this set, but frankly, every tune has something good to offer. Wright's playing has grown in nuance. His touch, the slight pause between notes, all add up to a good sounding record. Listen to "Witchcraft", Wright's up tempo groove along with the rhythm section really move the tune along. Even at this stage, you can hear how Wright has advanced in his approach to playing.
Disc Two starts off with the album "Makin' Out" (1961), a quartet date with the addition of Eddy "Cat-Eye" Williams on tenor sax. The rhythm section is Marshall bass (again), and the great Roy Brooks on drums. The sound on this album is a bit different than the previous sets. Here Wright's group play the kind of music you would hear in any small club in Chicago or New York. The music is straightforward, uncomplicated, and swings for the most part. This is due (in part) to Brooks, who played for several years with Horace Silver. And Williams' tenor sounds good-he's previously played with Bennie Green and had a short stint in Ray Charles' band. Check out "Back In Jersey" for a good example of Williams' sound. He plays on all but one tune on this album.
The final album, "The Last Amen" (1961), is a trio of Wright, Gene Taylor-bass, and Walter McCant-drums (from Wright's first album). Taylor has played with Horace silver among many other period jazz artists. The first tune, "Les I Can't", is a tribute to Les McCann, and this up tempo swinger is reminiscent of McCann. "Be My Love" is a ballad similar to what you'd hear in any small cocktail lounge in the inner city, but the tempo picks up further into the tune for a nice ending.
Listening to this tune (especially) you can hear how far Wright has come from his
12-bar blues days. There are several standards, with "But Beautiful" a good
example of Wright's abilities.
Listening to Wright, besides Red Garland, you can hear a bit of Errol Garner, and
on the later albums, Ahmad Jamal from the same period. There's even a bit of
Horace Silver (listen to "The Last Amen"), which is a good thing. And, too, the
underrated pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr. popped into my head, and also maybe a
bit of early Hampton Hawes. And while Wright was influenced by several of the
above players, he was trying to formulate his own individual style. He was no
"sound-a-like" who didn't want to forge his own sound. And the fact that he didn't
quite make that plateau doesn't mean his music isn't enjoyable-far from it. If you
like bluesy, swinging piano in a (mostly) trio setting, you should check out John
Wright. You may like what you hear."
Stuart Jefferson (August 21, 2012)