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Rich Halley Quartet: Requiem For A Pit Viper

Bruce Lindsay By

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Requiem For A Pit Viper opens up with a powerful, in-your-face, four-note riff that demands attention. The Rich Halley Quartet keeps demanding—and deserving—this attention throughout this collection of the tenor saxophonist's original compositions, as it delivers a constantly surprising and inventive music that ranges from a scream to a whisper—with a few squeaks thrown in. The musicians' energy and pleasure is almost palpable, the grooves strong and sinuous.

Halley, based in Oregon, has a discography that goes back almost thirty years, to the early-'80s. He's a tenor saxophonist whose combination of power and nuance gives his playing terrific projection and expression—if the saxophone really was designed to replicate the human voice, Halley comes as close as anyone to achieving that goal. Trombonist Michael Vlatkovitch is a match for Halley in terms of strength and combines a rich tone with a remarkably fluid slide action.

Clyde Reed fashions some of the fattest, funkiest, double bass riffs around. His solo on the title track is dynamic, fluid and fun—an excellent contrast to the hard-hitting riffs emanating from Halley's tenor and Vlatkovich's trombone. Drummer Carson Halley, Rich's son, becomes more impressive with every recording: his bouncing, elastic, sound enlivens every tune and his solo on the splendid "Snippet Stop Warp" is constantly engaging.

"View from the Underpass" has a free form, improvised feel, with Carson's relaxed percussion and Reed's sparse bass lines laying a foundation for Halley and Vlatkovitch to open up with some fiery horn sounds. "Circumambulation" brings the quartet into Charles Mingus territory, with Vlatkovitch's throaty trombone as the lead voice and another powerful display of ensemble playing at its core.

Vlatkovitch's trombone playing is a delight throughout, but his command of the squeaky toy also merits an honorable mention. On the aptly named "Squeaker," a laid back, slinky, crawl of a tune, Vlatkovitch's deft touch on the "instrument" adds a touch of fun and some surprisingly emphatic percussive punctuation.

Requiem For A Pit Viper is the third release on Halley's Pine Eagle Records. It follows the striking combination of jazz and spoken word that appeared on Children Of The Blue Supermarket (2011) with poet Dan Raphael, and shares that album's invention, humor and commitment. On his website Halley writes that "The tradition is to extend the tradition." Up there in Oregon he's doing just that, and doing it with flair.

Track Listing: Requiem for a Pit Viper; Snippet Stop Warp; View from the Underpass; Circumambulation; Purple and Gray; Maj; Wake Up Line; Squeaker; Subterranean Strut; Afternoon in June.

Personnel: Rich Halley: tenor saxophone, percussion; Michael Vlatkovich: trombone, percussion, squeak toys; Clyde Reed; bass; Carson Halley: drums, percussion.

Title: Requiem For A Pit Viper | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Pine Eagle Records

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