The Frank Wright Quartet - Your Prayer (1967), 8/10


Frank Wright and his supremely talented quintet featuring the prolific Jacques Coursil, (Black Suite) on trumpet and Muhammad Ali (brother of Rashied Ali) on drums come together to produce one of the most aggressive, violent, sharp, yet delicately beautiful free jazz records in Your Prayer, exemplifying the genre's original title of fire music. Frank Wright is known for his frantic playing style and it is bravely displayed on his second LP from start to finish. He was a truly excellent band leader, as well as an exceptionally positive influence on the avant-garde jazz scene in New York. The aptly titled documentary Fire Music provides insight into some of his leadership during that time including interviews from Wright himself. He worked with many of the most important musicians of the time in both New York during this period and beyond in Paris. His primary influence was clearly the projects of Ayler to which he contributed at varying stages; some critics view his influence as secondary and some think it is essential, but Ayler clearly provided some level of inspiration. As Br√∂tzmann pointed out, Wright "was a wild man, in a good sense: made music and lived life in his own way" and it is clear in his output. This phenomenon is displayed most clearly on Your Prayer, his greatest contribution to the jazz movement and its catalog of recordings, providing both brutality and intricate grace. The record is characterized by a consistent momentum that rarely ebbs, even in its more mellow sections there is an inherent tension, providing a truly moving set of improvisations backed by beautifully composed pieces; a style akin specifically to Ayler's Spiritual Unity but reinforced by a backbone of even greater 'sonic liberation' as Clifford Allen stated in his synopsis for the album. "The Lady" is a standout composition coming from alto saxophonist Arthur Jones, featuring once in a lifetime performances from the bandmembers and bookended by one of the most memorable earworm hooks you will hear in avant-garde music. We then get an equally thrilling piece in "Train Stop" that is accented by Ali's eccentric percussion that creates an atmosphere truly reminiscent of train tracks, poetically closed by a drifting melody. The pace then picks up again immediately at the start of "No End" that provides another outstanding performance from Ali and also stellar contributions from the horn section. "Fire of Spirits" has a free jazz foundation but an almost be-bop style solo arc that again ends with a drifting melody that sets up the title track's more delicate approach to fiery, heavily spiritual free jazz. Admittedly, I personally drift towards the more chaotic set of free jazz performances and there is perhaps no stronger example of this style than Your Prayer. It supplies euphoric bursts of adrenaline-laced jazz music and ultimately an uplifting, deeply spiritual listening experience. Its energy is contagious, its tensity captivating and its freedom liberating. When my listening experiences start to blend together and my focus drifts, Your Prayer is like a holy cleanse that rockets me to the heavens, then brings me back to my grounded, earthly senses. It breathed new life into the free jazz movement just as it does us today. If you’re a slave to order or not a fan of free jazz and its inherent melodic velocity you will be just as disappointed as ever, but if you are Wright and his quintet provide. One for the ages.