Rich Halley: Back From Beyond (2012)
Over a half a century after saxophonist Ornette Coleman launched the free jazz movement the genre is going strong thanks to such individualistic practitioners as tenor saxophonist Rich Halley.
Halley's sound has matured and crystallized over the course of dozen or so albums, all critically acclaimed. On his fourteenth release as a leader, Back From Beyond, he showcases his versatility and virtuosity, switching from quiet lyricism on "Opacity" to unbridled fury on "Spuds." Regardless of style, his brassy tenor is not lacking in improvisational vigor, and his intelligent exchanges with his band mates add a delightful spontaneity without devolving into cacophony. Halley brings a strong hard bop sensibility to some of the compositions, like the bluesy and soulful harmonic structure of "Broken Ground," and the leader's acerbic playing.
The achingly beautiful "The Mountain's Ege," on the other hand, features Halley's Native American-inspired wood flute floating up, while son Carson Halley's resonant and rhythmic percussion and Clyde Reed's chanting bass enhance the mood and anchor the melody.
Carson Halley and Reed are not confined to the traditional supporting role but are participants in the creative process. Reed's atonal arco bass solo adds a contemplative dimension to "Solanum," while the drummer's polyphonic work creates a deconstructed marching band sound on "Basalt," while the growls of Michael Vlatkovich's talking trombone add earthiness and humor to an otherwise free-flowing piece.
Short bursts of intense musical conversation characterize "Continental Drift," featuring Vlatkovich's whimsy as he uses squeak toys with perfect comedic timing. Vlatokovich' skills as a superior improviser are heard throughout, but especially in his tight work on "Reorbiting (for Sun Ra)" and his loose and melodic playing over the funky grooves of the title track.
A work that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying, Back from Beyond may fall slightly short of Halley's 2011 masterpiece, Requiem for a Pit Viper (Pine Eagle), but is, nevertheless, a superior example of innovative music.
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.