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Rich Halley: Terra Incognita

Jerome Wilson By

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On paper this is a very promising match-up: uninhibited tenor saxophonist Rich Halley backed by the relentless force of pianist Matthew Shipp and his current trio. For the most part, the resulting session delivers on its promise although at times Halley's playing is shoved so far to the front of the mix it drowns out everything else. This is especially true on the first track, "The Opening." Halley's long, steely lines are so overpowering that only the surface agitation of Shipp's piano and Newman Taylor Baker's drums come through. It isn't until Halley lays out that the full beauty of Shipp's nervous stabbing and Baker's and bassist Michael Bisio's intricate interplay can really be heard.

The music is best when Shipp and the rhythm section get the space to establish themselves before Halley cuts loose. "Forager" begins with the saxophonist limiting himself to small, deep figures while Shipp and the rhythm section trace lightly dancing patterns before the tenor shifts into foggy blues hollers and, later, full onslaught mode. On the relatively brief "The Elms" Halley does a slow, honking descent that becomes a long, subdued moan with Shipp's sinister keyboard crawling in support.

The rest of the set's tracks are glorious bursts of intense '60s' style Archie Shepp's "Fire Music" shaped and focused by the rhythm section. Baker starts "Centripedal" with crisp rolls that lead to fast bass walks and blazing piano runs that keep pace with Halley's hefty roars. On "Terra Incognita" Shipp starts by walking along jagged shards of rhythm with Bisio and Baker groaning and tickling while Halley does short barrel rolls that turn into rhapsodic bellowing. On "The Journey" Halley blows a mournful serenade while Shipp plays complimentary riffs and trills and Bisio and Baker produce a rattling undercurrent that grounds the delirious sounds above them. Halley sounds especially melodic as he digs deep flourishes which gradually work up into gale force blowing. He eventually gives way to a section of quietly intense murmurs from the trio and a strong Bisio bass solo before reentering with a more controlled and soulful howl that carries echoes of Albert Ayler and Shepp.

This is old-school energy jazz from four master musicians that works best when the contrast between the brute force of Rich Halley's tenor and the relative delicacy of the rhythm section is in balance. It's ragged in spots but still very potent music.

Track Listing: The Opening; Forager; Centripetal; The Elms; Terra Incognita; The Journey.

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

Title: Terra Incognita | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Pine Eagle Records

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