Rich Halley: Back From Beyond (2012)
The arrival of a new album by saxophonist and field biologist Rich Halley reliably signals a few good things: inventive composition and improvisation; tight, powerful, playing; driving grooves; a sense of humor...and squeak toys. Back From Beyond, credited to the Rich Halley 4, keeps up the pattern.
Based in Portland, Oregon, Halley's extensive discography dates back to 1985. His tenor style has been compared to Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas and Albert Ayler; all three influences are discernible on Back From Beyond, as Halley moves from gentle, Hawkins-esque warmth to fiery, aggressive honking. Across that sonic spectrum, he's continuously impressive.
Since 2010, Halley has released albums on his own Pine Eagle Records. Back From Beyond is the fourth on that label, and the second from this quartet following the excellent Requiem For A Pit Viper (2011). Halley gets sole writer credit for all but three of the tunes: "ReorbitingFor Sun Ra"; "Solanum"; and "Continental Drift" are credited as quartet compositions. There's a spontaneous, improvisational, feel to the music, however: a sense that whatever was originally written is subject to the ideas and inventiveness of each member of the quartet. The results are fresh, hard to predict, exciting.
There are some serious grooves on Back From Beyond, including the funky ("Broken Ground"), slinky ("Section Three" and "Back From Beyond"), and spacey ("ReorbitingFor Sun Ra"). These come mostly from the drum and bass pairing of Carson Halley (the saxophonist's son) and Clyde Reed; their funky rhythm on "Broken Ground" gives trombonist Michael Vlatkovich a great platform for his raw, emphatic, solo, but Halley and Vlatkovich add their own ample punch to the rhythms as well. These tight grooves have much to do with the music's accessibility, creating a strong center for some imaginative improvisation.
The musical motifs on "Spuds" bear a resemblance to the music which Halley and Carson created to complement Dan Raphael's poetry on the excellent Childen Of The Blue Supermarket (Pine Eagle, 2011). "Opacity" has a real sense of narrative, its shifts in tempo and color suggesting a dark urban tale. On "The Mountain's Edge," Halley takes up the wood flute, its warm and calming tone counterpointed by Reed's darker aco.
The good humor that pervades Back From Beyond goes beyond the use of squeak toys, although Vlatkovich does have an excellent sense of comic timing with them on "Continental Drift." His humor also to the fore in the trombonist's ripe and rasping solo on "Spuds," with its sudden, fleeting, referencing of "I Could Have Danced All Night," while underpinning the musical interplay on "Solanum" and "Broken Ground." It's a mood that pervades this album, a welcoming and inclusive feeling that combines with musical excellence to create another striking addition to the Halley discography.
Track Listing: Spuds; Section Three; Reorbiting--for Sun Ra; Solanum; Opacity; Continental Drift; Broken Ground; The Mountain's Edge; Basalt; Back From Beyond.
Personnel: Michael Vlatkovich: trombone, percussion, squeak toys; Rich Halley: tenor saxophone, wood flute, percussion; Carson Halley: drums, percussion; Clyde Reed: bass.