What is the significance of saxophonist Rich Halley’s formal education in field biology? To answer that question, I might pose the same question for trumpeter Eddie Henderson’s medical studies or saxophonist Charles Gayle’s devotion to his faith. To paraphrase Charlie Parker, “If you don’t live it, it cannot come out of your horn.” For a musician like Rich Halley nature proves ample inspiration for his music.
For Halley, ‘nature’ is no “Born Free” feel good ‘let’s hug’ kind of thing. He works his compositions from the margins of our natural world. His music, like the untamed environment outside the urban world, can be as unpredictable and free as a spring storm. His trio of Clyde Reed and Dave Storrs work well in Halley’s composed and (seeming entropy) free forms. This session mixes a refreshing array of ever changing odd time signatures as if to say “you think you can predict where we are going, we’ll not double-back on your ears.”
Halley appeared on Rob Blakeslee’s Waterloo Ice House (Louie Records1999) and led sessions with Blakeslee on several 9 Winds releases including the excellent Live At Beanbenders. This release is his first as a leader for Louie Records.
The opener, “Green, Brown, And Blue,” is the only track that could be considered a saxophone workout, with Halley exercising a post-bop tenor worthy of Dewey Redman. Halley refers to nature throughout. His “Crows” begins as a Steve Lacy inspired soprano piece with drummer Storrs rat-ta-tat-ing with brushes as if to mimic a line of crows on a tin roof. The trio advances to a flurry of bird-like activity, including a mini-symphony of percussion before a post-bop tenor ending. Halley follows up with the uneasiness of “Coyotes In The City.” His predators come down from the hills with an apprehensive and restless pace, bassist Clyde Reed pulsing danger at every corner. Halley’s soprano, then flute heighten the agitation, as the hunted become the hunters. But all is not angst here; he composes some lovely odes to the outdoors with “Green Dusk” a sort of Ben Webster meets a river valley and “Half Light” a meditation on time just before dawn.
Halley’s music comes straight from nature, a place not traditionally familiar to jazz musicians but one well known to him. He has lived it and it comes out of his horn. A fine effort.