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Rich Halley, Ethan Philion and Other Releases


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Here are a few more albums from 2023 that deserve some belated recognition.

Rich Halley
Fire Within
Pine Eagle Records

This is tenor saxophonist Rich Halley's third recording with a quartet that also features Matthew Shipp on piano, Michael Bisio on bass, and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. All four men are seasoned veterans and their work as a unit exhibits a maturity and finesse much deeper than the usual "fire music" concepts. There is delicacy and control in the tenor-piano interplay of "Inferred" and bluesy wistfulness on "Through Still Air" as Halley softly purrs over Bisio's keening arco bass and Shipp's spaced chords. When they choose to go at it full bore on "Fire Within" and "Angular Logic" they blow the house down. This is an album of intense, well-sculpted music.

Joe Policastro Trio

This guitar trio, led by bassist Joe Policastro, sounds energetic and agile on a set of originals and covers that embrace a multitude of styles. At the jazzy end of things, guitarist Dave Miller expertly navigates the quick tempo shifts of "Poioumena" and bouncy rhythms of "Scene Missing." Elsewhere the trio shows its versatility, creating a nice country rock bounce on "Mojave LIfeline." Cover versions include a sophisticated roadhouse take on Roy Orbison's ""Blue Bayou" with rippling guitar plucks, a chugging samba groove in "Bala Com Bala" and a careful creep through Thelonious Monk's twisting "Brilliant Corners."

Ethan Philion Quartet
Sunnyside Records

Bassist Ethan Philion made a strong impression in 2022 with his first album, Meditations on Mingus (Sunnyside, 2022). He continues to show a Mingus influence on this quartet session, His group bristles with a rambunctious energy. Philion's bass booms right up front, fighting for space with Russ Johnson's trumpet and Greg Ward's alto saxophone. On "Sheep Shank," the band conjures up visions of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago as the horns glide over Dana Hall's boiling drums. The leader's bass chimes like a thumb piano on "Nostalgia" as the horns sail serenely on, while Mingus' own "What Love" has Ward and Johnson playing with poetic intensity,

Atlantic Road Trip

The members of the group Atlantic Road Trip come from many different backgrounds. Trumpeter Chad McCullough is from Chicago, vibraphonist Miro Herak is from Slovenia, saxophonist Paul Towndrow and drummer Alyn Cosker are from Scotland, and bassist Conor Murray is from Ireland. Their music together reflects these different places. Some pieces like "The Other Fulton Street" and "Upside Down" are energetic straight jazz works but others go in different directions. "Hore Haj, Dolu Haj" is a Slovenian folk song carrying an air of mystery through Herak's vibes and Towndorw's flute. "Pale Ale" is an Irish jig given body by the trumpet and vibes, while "White Cart Water" and "Kopala Studienku" are lovely ballads drawn out of melancholy folk melodies.

Geof Bradfield Quintet

Chicago-based saxophonist Geof Bradfield leads a powerful quintet that shows an appealing swagger on this live set. "Deep Ellum" is a high-stepping, swampy groove that lets Russ Johnson's perky trumpet and Scott Hesse's spiraling guitar shine. "Plucky" has Johnson and Bradfield strutting over a bumpy Monk-ish rhythm, while on "Quaver," Clark Sommers' bass and Dana Hall's drums stretch the rhythm with the tension of a George Russell composition as Bradfield's tenor reaches for the sky. On the quieter side, "Nao Faz Mal" is a tropical ballad that features Hesse weaving through mellow horn lines and Hall adding sensitive hand drumming. This is an excellent and varied live set.

Tracks and Personnel

Fire Within

Tracks: Fire Within; Inferred; Angular Logic; Through Still Air; Following the Stream.

Personnel: Rich Halley: tenor saxophone; Matthew Shipp: piano; Michael Bisio: bass; Newman Taylor Baker: drums.


Tracks: Ceremony; Poioumena; Mojave Lifeline; Blue Bayou; Brilliant Corners; Scene Missing; Possible Music; Bala Com Bala.

Personnel: Joe Policastro: bass; Dave Miller: guitar; Mikey Avery: drums.


Tracks: The Boot; What Love; Sheep Shank; Nostalgia; Comment Section; Gnosis.

Personnel: Ethan Philion: bass; Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Russ Johnson: trumpet; Dana Hall: drums.


Tracks: The Other Fulton Street; Nightingale Island; Hore Haj, Dolu Haj; Pale Ale (Pale Ale/Dr. Jones Never Saw It Coming); Auburn; Cacuvela; Kopala Studienku, Pozerala Do Nej; White Cart Water (Cathcart/White Cart Water); Upside Down; Dreams of Matka.

Personnel: Paul Towndrow: alto saxophone, whistles, flute; Chad McCullough: trumpet, flugelhorn; Miro Herak: virbaphone; Conor Murray: double bass; Alyn Cosker: drums, bodhran.


Tracks: Dave's Intro; Deep Ellum; Quaver; Nao Faz Mal; Plucky; 5 in 3; Solid Jackson.

Personnel: Geof Bradfield: tenor saxophone; Russ Johnson: trumpet; Scott Hesse: guitar; Clark Sommers: acoustic bass; Dana Hall: drums, cymbals.



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