As the title suggests, Live At The Penofin Jazz Festival
is a straight-from-the-stage recording, from the 2008 Festival held at Potter Valley, California. It chronicles a fiery, upbeat performance, from the Rich Halley Quartet, that combines composed and improvised music in an interesting and enjoyable set of tunes. Four of the compositions can be found on tenor saxophonist Halley's previous studio albumsthree from The Blue Rims
(Louie, 2003), and one, "Grey Stones," from Objects
(Louie, 2002)in addition to Streets Below," the set's one new tune.
Halley is a veteran player with ten previous albums as leader. Oregon-based, he is a trained field biologist and lover of the countryside; his Outside Music Ensemble existing expressly to play in rural settings, without the need for stages or power supplies. Cornetist Bobby Bradford
worked with Ornette Coleman
in the '50s and '60s, and enjoyed a fruitful twenty-year partnership with clarinetist John Carter
. Both players are skilled improvisers who, crucially, do so in an accessible and open way.
Bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley, the saxophonist's son, are consistently fine, their contributions central to the album's success. They hold down the tunes' rhythmic centers, and also enable Halley and Bradford to stretch out, experiment and trade off each other. The simple but effective duet which Reed and Carson Halley play midway through the eminently danceable "Streets Below," with a little added percussion, is gently funky and warm, and calms things down for a few moments before the reintroduction of tenor sax and cornet.
On occasion, Bradford sounds rather hesitantmidway through "Grey Stones / Shards of Sky," for examplebut, for the most part, he delivers some thoughtful, inventive lines. His solo on "Streets Below" is sparkling and fresh, while, on "Grey Stones," he melds military bugle calls with short, repetitive improvised phrases. Halley is superb throughout; confident, tight and fluid, whether trading lead lines with Bradford or creating his own dynamic solos.
The opening bars of "The Blue Rims" hint at Charles Mingus
' "Fables of Faubus," before Reed kicks off a swinging bass line, followed by driving percussion from Carson Halley over which Bradford plays a staccato lead line. Reed's strongly-played bass solo hands over to Halley, whose tenor solo brings down the tempo momentarily before it, too, becomes a more powerful statement that moves between free form playing and a funky blues style.
The live recording gives this album a rather nostalgic and anachronistic feelthe sound of a '50s radio broadcast, rather than a twenty-first century digital production. Initially this can be somewhat disconcerting and, on occasions, it leads to an imbalance across the instrumentsin particular, Carson Halley's drums can be too far to the front of the mix, while Bradford's cornet sits rather too far back. But ultimately, there is an organic and comforting feel to the sound of Live At The Penofin Jazz Festival
that befits the rural setting of its creation.