“Passion is an unstable molecule. A universe of energy itching to be released.” So says the foldout sleeve of Red, the second disc in a trilogy of colors by poet and guitarist Rik Wright. It’s an apt description of the relationship he has for years now shared with multi-instrumentalist James DeJoie (reeds and flute), bassist Geoff Harper, and drummer-percussionist Greg Campbell. As Fundamental Forces, this fearless foursome excavates the circle first drawn in Blue (released 2013 on Hipsync Records) with even finer tools in hand. Whereas that predecessor looked into the crystal ball of the future, this sequel dips into the font of the past and emerges baptized in new directions.
There’s almost nothing about the guitar-bass ostinato that begins “(She’s so) Fragmented” to indicate the itching universe about to unravel. But once the rhythm section takes over and allows for alto and guitar to carve out their groove, the album’s first of five deep cuts shows us just how much letting can be accomplished in 46 minutes of Earth time. DeJoie unhinges himself from the theme, plotting challenging geometries in contrast to Wright’s angelic beauties. This is where the pieces of the guitarist’s versifying fall formatively into place, not only laying the corner pieces but also gnawing at them until they begin to fray. Campbell shakes things up a bit, too, all the while remaining true to the core pulse.
After this nine-minute juggernaut, the skeletal geode that is “Yearning” veritably sparkles. Wrapped in Campbell’s loose timekeeping and Wright’s webbed guitar, it charts a detour along beauteous sonic paths. Although it is, at just over four minutes, the shortest track of the album, it is also its snaking heart, the chamber through which the surrounding tunes’ blood flows, from which it exits, and to which it returns. Next is “Subtle Energy,” which at 13 minutes reverts to the band’s epic comforts. Wright’s John Abercrombie-like intro casts a long, downtempo shadow and, like the album’s opener, spins from complacent beginnings a cosmic web of intrigue. Wright and his bandmates are so attuned to every shift of texture, proving their ascent to a new level of descriptive awareness.
The penultimate “Single Angularity” is a prime vehicle for DeJoie’s baritone. What seems an oxymoron in the title becomes organic in the music: what fails in language proliferates in art. The band journeys deepest for this one, rising and falling in unscripted fervor. If there is a particular immediacy of transmission here, it is because this and “Yearning” were both taken from a radio performance. Yet that same live presence thread pulls through the studio tracks as well, and especially in the concluding “Synesthesia,” a yielding vessel that drags its oars in a cinematic, David Lynchean stream of consciousness toward dreamy conclusions.
If Blue was a kaleidoscope, requiring light and vision for its patterns to thrive, then Red is a laser, boring into the earth, in need of darkness in order to glow, incisive and true. More than ever, Fundamental Forces is working like a team of archaeologists, brushing away the clinging dirt until their inspiration reveals an ancient heart.
(To preview and purchase Red, click here.)