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An exhibit by an artist famed for painting live to jazz 

When Al Bright lets loose, the results still have the power to startle.

Al Bright' s "Portals in Time"

Al Bright' s "Portals in Time"

In the years after WWII World War II, when American culture was coming into its own, modern jazz, or Bebopbebop, and Abstract Expressionist painting were key areas of avant-garde activity, , related in their use of spontaneous improvisation in pursuit of pure, unmediated expression. Bebop and Abstract abstract Expressionism expressionism are now all grown up — senior citizens, in fact — but there' s still vitality in each. Al Bright's long-standing practice of 40 years brings them together, translating the sound and energy of jazz into visual expression.

Bright, who is a retired painting professor at Youngstown State University, is acclaimed for his paintings done to live jazz, including performances by such greats as Art Blakey and Wynton Marsalis. Al Bright: Abstract Jazz Works, an exhibit at 709 Penn Gallery (presented as part of the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival), and this exhibit includes videos showing him paint live while also including footage of the musicians. It' s exciting to watch him work without a safety net, as did the crowd at the opening reception, when Bright painted to the live sounds of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra.

Strictly speaking, Bright is a third-generation Abstract Expressionist, and his art is closer to the mellower imagery of Sam Gilliam or Helen Frankenthaler. Bright shares with the original Abstract abstract Expressionists expressionists the use of physical gestures when in painting as a means of sidestepping the limitations of rational thought. Of course, such art is based on training and talent. B, but at the moment of truth, strategizing is subsumed to feeling — and Bright does appear to feel the music — often yielding vibrant expression.

Still, Bright's process isn't random. His art displays consistency of style with recurring color choices, marks, techniques (washy, scraped, impastoed, squeezed right from the paint tube, et. al.), and overall compositional structures. In "Portals in Time"," (2012), we can see Bright's often-favored palette of intense reds, toned-down yellows, and blues ranging from dark to light. Also present is his use of circles (painting some layers around a large lid that functions as a stencil), which emphasize the flatness of the picture plane while creating an illusion of looking into space.

Strictly speaking, Bright is a third-generation Abstract Expressionist, and his art is generally closer to the mellower imagery of Helen Frankenthaler than to the more abrasive Franz Kline. And while some of the more recent paintings feature lots of pastels and little color dissonance —more akin to smooth jazz than Bebop —when Bright let's loose, the results still have the power to startle. And Bright he deserves special notice for having developed his pioneering practice. Presented as part of the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival.

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