The cover and title of Rich Halley's latest, Fire Within, have a menacing edge, alerting us to the incendiary qualities that are always a part of the tenor saxophonist's music. But one of the remarkable things about Halley's output is that it is never one-dimensional; there are abundant nuances and surprises to keep a listener engaged, with plenty of rhythmic fervor and lyricism even amidst the more anarchic moments. And as he is united once again on his third outing with free-jazz veterans Matthew Shipp on piano, Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums, Halley has superlative partners with whom to develop musical conversations that, while completely uncomposed, nevertheless possess an intrinsic logic.
As expected, it does not take long for the pyrotechnics to emerge, as the title-track opener sees Halley exploring the outer limits of his horn before we are barely even a minute into the album, with Shipp and company in close pursuit. But once Halley steps aside, we are treated to a dynamic conversation with the rest of the quartet. Shipp's figures bounce off the rhythmic undercurrent provided by Bisio and Baker, eventually moving into some scintillating free-bop before Halley returns with a fiery thrust, but rather than burning the place down the remainder of the track moves into a more reserved, even subdued register, with some of Halley's most tender moments on the record.
The other four tracks are just as multitextured, with melodicism coexisting with the occasional chaos. "Inferred" is a terrific example of the unique chemistry Halley has with these musicians, particularly with Shipp, whose own lyrical propensities surface alongside Halley's amidst the track's emotional ebb and flow, once again culminating with Halley's dusky ruminations. The oblique de-centering of "Angular Logic" has its Thelonious Monkish attributes, while the ethereality of "Through Still Air" is enhanced by Bisio's mournful high-pitched arco. "Following the Stream" is a triumphant closer, the title perhaps a nod to the ongoing flow of the jazz tradition that permeates Halley's music. Shipp makes that suggestion himself with an extended reference to Miles Davis' "Milestones," in case any additional proof were needed of this quartet's ability to carry out its forward-leaning pursuits while still retaining contact with the legacy of the music's past.
Fire Within; Inferred; Angular Logic; Through Still Air; Following The Stream.
All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.