Rich Halley: Crossing The Passes
Crossing the Passes is the third by Halley's quartet with ace trombonist Michael Vlatkovich. The tenor / trombone front line is a study in contrasts, shadows and light. Halley's tenor sound has that wonderful old-school feel: grainy, warm, and texturallike Booker Ervin or Ben Webster as much as John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins. Vlatkovich is always a joy to listen to. His playing combines virtuosic technique with an off-the-wall sensibility that reflects the considerable time he's spent in every imaginable musical setting; non-jazz as well as all sorts of jazz. Together, Halley and Vlatkovich generate a big, broad, commanding sound that fleshes out Halley's increasingly involved compositions. As one might expect, the pair have a conversational rapport and quite frequently interject into each other's improvisations. While the tradition of jazz quartets sans a guitar or piano or other chordal instrument lends itself to the wilder and woolier side of the harmonic coinand that is often the case herebassist Clyde Reed has the requisite harmonic and rhythmic sophistication to move freely within the music's more demanding passages. Rhythmically astute, Reed dependably pushes the music forward when it's time to stretch out. He works well with drummer Carson Halley, who seems to be adopting an increasingly Ed Blackwell-inspired approach to the drumkit.
It's startling how Halley's writing has moved from the loose expansiveness of his trio recordings from a few years back, to the flinty, tightly conceived pieces he's penned for this group. There's a Zen-like spareness in Halley's compositions on Crossing The Passes that brings the work of Steve Lacy to mind, especially the material documented by late soprano saxophonist during the late 1970s and early 1980s. This comes to the fore in the tightly-coiled, almost-dissonant horn lines on pieces like "The Only Constant," "Duopoly," and the somewhat spooky "Rain, Wind and Hail." Some of the most potent pieces on the album; "Basin and Range," and "Traversing The Maze" are fueled by funk-inspired rhythms that Halley fils handles with great subtlety and aplomb. Four hefty group improvisations, "Looking West From West," "Journey Across The Land," "Acute Angles," and the title track are impressively varied. Each has such a strong sense of direction that a casual listener could be forgiven for thinking they're formal compositions. This is heady stuff, for sure, but could serve as a fitting soundtrack for one's next trek into the wilderness; any wilderness.
Track Listing: The Only Constant; Traversing the Maze; Looking West From West; Smooth Curve of the Bow; The Spring Rains; Duopoly; Crossing the Passes; Basin and Range; Acute Angles; Rain, Wind and Hail; Journey Across the Land.
Personnel: Rich Halley: tenor saxophone; Michael Vlatkovich: trombone; Clyde Reed: bass; Carson Halley: drums, percussion.
Record Label: Pine Eagle Records
Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde