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Rich Halley: Crossing The Passes

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Rich Halley: Rich Halley: Crossing The Passes How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

In the popular media, jazz is seen as a completely urban phenomenon. There's plenty of precedent for this. It's not worth going into here. But the mere mention of the word "jazz" evokes images of neon- illuminated city streets, ice cubes tinkling in rock glasses, lit cigarettes, and bustling nightlife. For some, though, jazz is not about place. It's about spirit; a spirit unfettered and free in thought and action. Free enough to chip away at long-held archetypes to reveal something that is—if not wholly new—fundamentally different. Tenor saxophonist Rich Halley
Rich Halley
Rich Halley

sax, tenor
is one of those guys. A retired wildlife biologist who's been writing, recording and playing daring, edgy jazz in the Pacific Northwest for over 30 years, Halley relates his music directly to his experiences in the wild; hunting, fishing, hiking, and just being. These experiences, in turn, are evident in his music, which has all of the twists and turns; risks and adventures of an extended hike through an ever-changing wilderness.

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 textural—like Booker Ervin
Booker Ervin
Booker Ervin
1930 - 1970
sax, tenor
or Ben Webster
Ben Webster
Ben Webster
1909 - 1973
sax, tenor
as much as John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
or Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
. 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 coin—and that is often the case here—bassist 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
Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy
1934 - 2004
sax, soprano
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


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