Rick Wright Gets His Due in Early Pink Floyd
THIS ORIGINALLY STARTED OUT AS A POST IN THE AMAZING MADCAPS LAUGHING FACEBOOK GROUP. JOIN THAT GROUP HERE. WRITTEN BY VICTOR:
[Think I initially put this on my Timeline which means it reached friends that don't have the slightest idea what they received...I know long posts tend to get ignored but when I begin to type I just cun't stop meself.]
While Kiloh has some interesting ideas re: the Floyd getting back together again with Waters, Nick, Dave and a new keyboardist it just will never be my old Floyd without Syd and Rick. The following is a mixture of the old and some new and is rather lengthy so do with it what you will!
Rick's definite jazz influences which I think went largely unnoticed for several reasons, not the least of which was the "push" for the band to continue that "trippy" track it found itself on. But he had to do it all alone after "Piper" because after all Syd was "gone", Mason had no leader and Waters' ego had yet to truly discover itself.
SFOS was Rick's album and the "FUSION" direction in which the Floyd were headed was dead after Syd went north for his long, cold loving winter. Gone were the Miles Davis, T. Monk, Copeland influences and entered the J.S. Bach-Baroque style that carried Mathew Fisher/Procul Harem and several other acts of the time. But one of the many "tragedies" of Syd's demise was Wright's concomitant musical loss of altitude...the incredible improvisational excursions that Syd and Rick took off on Pow R Toch, Stethoscope et.al., were unprecedented and can only be described as a mixture of Rock and Jazz unlike anything done before...and were simply left on the vine....think of the chronology of the "rock-fusion" genre....what were it's roots, it's beginnings?
When was Piper released? October of '67?...I'm probably wrong on this exact date but my point is that Richard Wright and Syd Barrett were the driving force behind the very first album by a band that really embraced both true jazz influences and rock music. Rick Wright was an unquestionable pioneer of the rock/jazz fusion "movement". Take away the gnome and matilda stuff (which I cherish just as much for different reasons) and Piper was a new kind of experimental jazz rather than a "trippy" melding of "weird" sonic machinations with jazzy underpinnings. Plus the MOFO rocked. I just can not agree with Kiloh that Syd's Piper was a step down from Arnold Layne and Emily and was the next stepping stone down the road to Syd's ultimate descent into madness.
Contemporarily it had no equivalent. The live jams of Cream wouldn't come until later and were no match for what Syd and Rick were doing years earlier anyway...
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Wright had working knowledge of cello, trombone, guitar and violin. Largely self-taught, like Barrett, Wright learnt to play scales and chords in his own idiosyncratic fashion. Wright had grown up entranced by jazz and classical music,
listening to Duke Ellington and Aaron Copeland. He taught himself to play while laid up with a broken foot. Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis' 1959 masterpiece, [i]Kind of Blue[/i], featuring John Coltrane on saxophone and Bill Evans on piano, was a seminal influence. The modal structures of that album were to prove a key influence on Wright's keyboard style.
Wright told Mark Blake, `When I was first in The Floyd I wasn't into pop music at all - I was listening to jazz and when The Beatles released `Please Please Me' I didn't like it at all. I thought it was utterly puerile.' Growing up in the days before rock and roll, Wright listened to classical music before getting into traditional jazz players like Humphrey Lyttelton and Kenny Ball. `Then I discovered Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue album and got very excited. Porgy and Bess is a brilliant record - the nearest thing to a trumpet made to sound like the human voice. The influences in The Floyd came from different areas. Syd was more into Bo Diddley; I had the more classical approach.' When time came to play with Wright, they would find their interests dovetailed well. Barrett's glissandi circling clusters of sparse root chords played by Wright.
Wright's keyboard style had a unique melancholic grandeur. He had an ear for exotic sounds, bringing in Middle Eastern Phrygian scales into his mix. Never one to play lightning fast or pound the notes out, Wright conjured up his unique style with patience. What was left out was as important as what stayed in, and Wright took a calm and methodical approach. The influence of Davis sideman Bill Evans introspective, melancholic piano was strong. Modal jazz had minimal chords and relied on melody and intervals of different modes. A slow harmonic rhythm opened space in the music, in contrast to bebop's frenzy.
Wright would develop a strong interest in the splinter free jazz movement, listening to Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk's albums. Add to this his taste for classical composers Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Béla Bartók and there was an interesting and unusual convergence of styles in Wright's playing.
Wright's organ proved an ideal counterpoint to Barrett's guitar. Pink Floyd's core sound stemmed from Wright as much as Barrett. Wright has not received proper credit, often matching Syd note for sustained note. Wright became intuitive and agile, with a strong melodic sense, his languorous chords contrasting with flurries of scales. Jenner: `That Farfisa and all the pedal notes and sustaining chords he used combined with the echoes from Syd, who was much more sparkly.'
Wright accompanied rapid alternating fluid leads and cacophonous textures in Barrett's guitar playing. Barrett would switch to static rhythm while Wright unleashed colour washes. Composer Phil Salathé says, `Wright's approach was highly scalar, often built from chromatically-inflected modal forms that remained more or less stable throughout a particular solo. Barrett, by contrast, favoured direct chromaticism, taking a set of pitches from a particular scale or mode and transposing them by fixed amounts, most often a semitone.'
Wright used, in his words, `chordal progression and melodic lines just above them' to weave his web. Wright incorporated Charles Mingus' radical innovations like pitting flatted-fifth intervals outside the chord, out of context, creating floating intervals that suggest their presence without a literal presence inside the chord. Wright would play the `blue tones' with his right hand, articulating a tone foreign to the home key, Say, an E-flat, while his left hand held down simple progressions in C.
Wright learnt much of this from playing along with pieces such as Aaron Copland's [i]Four Piano Blues[/i], which incorporate these and similar devices. The implications of bitonality would appear and disappear like a mirage. Together, they used dissonance as suggestion, with chord sequences that hover at the edge of resolution, or resolve on the most unexpected chords. Salathé notes, `Indeed, one
of Wright's most enduring virtues is his penchant for surprising and non-stereotyped harmonies, and much of this probably derives from his early exposure to this music.'
Wright added, `American classical composer Aaron Copland's 1962 'Appalachian Spring ' is his most famous work. I discovered him back in the late '60s after hearing something on the radio. Like all my favourite music, there's something in his material that touches me. I think it's the chordal progression and the melodic lines just above them that do it for me here - and it's very peaceful. When I listen to the stuff that I've played over the years I feel I've been heavily influenced by Copland, albeit subconsciously.'
As Gilmour said, 'Rick Wright was the soul of Pink Floyd.' A
sublime musician, whose elegant and economical melodic lines are a sonic marvel, Rick Wright will be sorely missed.