On "The River's Edge Is Ice," the opener on the Rich Halley Quartet's latest, The Blue Rims, the band sounds like a force of nature, like a gathering low pressure system that coalesces into a storm front, building to a ferocious gale of logical bopping that eventually breaks into inevitable dissipation.
The Blue Rims is saxophonist Rich Halley's third outing on Louie Records, the innovative small label from Corvallis, Oregon. Halley's two previous Louie efforts, Coyotes in the City and Objects (this reviewer's pick for the top jazz CD of 2002) were trio affairs, with the saxophonist joined by bassist Clyde Reed and percussionist Dave Storrs, the brains and soul of Louie Records. For The Blue Rims, Halley has brought in coronetist Bobby Bradford to add a new dimension to his sound.
Bobby Bradford may not have a high profile these days, but he played in Ornette Coleman's band in the early sixties and got the chance to record with him on The Science Fiction Sessions. There he played a major role in some of the free jazz innovators' finest sides, blowing trumpet lines around Dewey Redman's free flung sax approach and Ornette's plaintive cries. He was a great choice to join Halley and company on The Blue Rims.
The six extended workouts on the discall clocking in around ten minutesfeel like an extension and progression of the framework of Ornette's '70s ideas, but more fluid and organic and Zen-like. Less frenetic and urgentspontaneous jazz by a band possessed of a musical telepathy and a supreme assurance that comes fromin the case of Halley/Storr/Reedyears (decades) of playing together.
It's tough to describe the essence of a free/spontaneous jazz experience, so let me list some of the loose (but I think valid) connections these sounds made for me: Dexter Gordon's "Tanya" from his One Flight Up CD, for the tenor power and improvisation on the long, sinuous tune; "Nine," off the Dewey Redman/Cecil Taylor/Elvin Jones CD, Momentum Space, for Redman's brawny audacity and Jones's inexhaustible percussive inventiveness; the Ornette Coleman Science Fiction Session for the Dewey Redman/Bobby Bradford interplay; John Coltrane's "Bessie's Blues," for the combination of power and melodic logic. All of this is present in The Blue Rims. And it may seem a stretch, but how about Howlin' Wolf on songs like "Wang Dang Doodle" and "Little Red Rooster," for the just barely tamed raw feral energy.
As fine a free jazz outing as you'll hear... sonic rambles gelling into taunt, bopping melodies that break apart and reassemble in surprising ways: a set that tops last year's Objects.