In the popular media, jazz is seen as a completely urban phenomenon. There's plenty of precedent for this. It's not worth going into here. But the mere mention of the word "jazz" evokes images of neon- illuminated city streets, ice cubes tinkling in rock glasses, lit cigarettes, and bustling nightlife. For some, though, jazz is not about place. It's about spirit; a spirit unfettered and free in thought and action. Free enough to chip away at long-held archetypes to reveal something that isif not wholly newfundamentally different. Tenor saxophonist Rich Halley
is one of those guys. A retired wildlife biologist who's been writing, recording and playing daring, edgy jazz in the Pacific Northwest for over 30 years, Halley relates his music directly to his experiences in the wild; hunting, fishing, hiking, and just being. These experiences, in turn, are evident in his music, which has all of the twists and turns; risks and adventures of an extended hike through an ever-changing wilderness. Crossing the Passes
is the third by Halley's quartet with ace trombonist Michael Vlatkovich
. The tenor / trombone front line is a study in contrasts, shadows and light. Halley's tenor sound has that wonderful old-school feel: grainy, warm, and texturallike Booker Ervin
or Ben Webster
as much as John Coltrane
or Sonny Rollins
. Vlatkovich is always a joy to listen to. His playing combines virtuosic technique with an off-the-wall sensibility that reflects the considerable time he's spent in every imaginable musical setting; non-jazz as well as all sorts of jazz. Together, Halley and Vlatkovich generate a big, broad, commanding sound that fleshes out Halley's increasingly involved compositions. As one might expect, the pair have a conversational rapport and quite frequently interject into each other's improvisations. While the tradition of jazz quartets sans
a guitar or piano or other chordal instrument lends itself to the wilder and woolier side of the harmonic coinand that is often the case herebassist Clyde Reed
has the requisite harmonic and rhythmic sophistication to move freely within the music's more demanding passages. Rhythmically astute, Reed dependably pushes the music forward when it's time to stretch out. He works well with drummer Carson Halley, who seems to be adopting an increasingly Ed Blackwell-inspired approach to the drumkit.
It's startling how Halley's writing has moved from the loose expansiveness of his trio recordings from a few years back, to the flinty, tightly conceived pieces he's penned for this group. There's a Zen-like spareness in Halley's compositions on Crossing The Passes
that brings the work of Steve Lacy
to mind, especially the material documented by late soprano saxophonist during the late 1970s and early 1980s. This comes to the fore in the tightly-coiled, almost-dissonant horn lines on pieces like "The Only Constant," "Duopoly," and the somewhat spooky "Rain, Wind and Hail." Some of the most potent pieces on the album; "Basin and Range," and "Traversing The Maze" are fueled by funk-inspired rhythms that Halley fils
handles with great subtlety and aplomb. Four hefty group improvisations, "Looking West From West," "Journey Across The Land," "Acute Angles," and the title track are impressively varied. Each has such a strong sense of direction that a casual listener could be forgiven for thinking they're formal compositions. This is heady stuff, for sure, but could serve as a fitting soundtrack for one's next trek into the wilderness; any wilderness.