Phil Wright

Feeling Right

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If Grandma Moses didn't start painting till she was in her 80s, what's wrong with veteran pianist Phil Wright launching his solo career at 70 with Feeling Right? A contemporary of Joe Sample and Ramsey Lewis who was on staff at Chess and Capitol as arranger and producer in the decades when those two were first grabbing the spotlight, Wright has a similar style -- soulful and pop-oriented, yet strong on the traditional jazz improvisations in the required moments. On the briskly swinging "Hot Mama," he invokes the playful high-register attitude of yet another pianist and composer from that era -- Vince Guaraldi -- on the verses, while digging deeper with staccato low tones for the hook. While he seems most at home jumping off into swirling, lightning-quick runs off a strong melodic center, Wright's diversity -- moving gracefully from subtle ballads like "Twilight Serenade" to the frenetic Brasilia of "Sometimes Samba" -- is his greatest asset. And his trio (featuring the powerful rhythm section of Andy Simpkins on bass and Bruno Carr on drums) enjoys experimentation; "Circle" begins as a gentle love letter, evolves into a swinging jam complete with exploding piano-hi hat flourishes and unexpected glissandos, and ends with a heated bass/piano conversation.

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