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Rich Halley 3: The Literature

Dan McClenaghan By

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After spending a few formative musical years in Chicago—where the winds blow the blues around—saxophonist Rich Halley made his way back to Portland, Oregon. Halley's recording career made its leap to the top shelf when he joined forces with drummer/record label honcho Dave Storrs at Louie Records. Four excellent recordings under Halley's name saw release on Louie Records between 2001 and 2005, including an early new millennium highlight, Objects (2002).

In terms of style, Halley intersperses wild-eyed, fire breathing rants with muscular and accessible free bopping grooves. He eschews the chording instruments, piano and guitar, and plays, usually, in the trio or quartet mode—sax/bass/drums, and adds another horn or two when the mood is right—cornetist Bobby Bradford on The Blue Rims (Louie Records, 2003); or more often trombonist Michael Vltakovich; and then there is reedman Vinny Golia, making it a three horn front line on The Outlier (Pine Eagle Records, 2016).

Now for the disc at hand. The Literature finds Halley back in the trio mode—a familiar place for him. What is unfamiliar is the set list. Halley's previous albums, nineteen of them, consist of all original tunes—with one exception that points in the direction of The Literature: a gruff but tender rendition of Harold Arlen's "Over The Rainbow" on the previously-mentioned Objects (Louie Records, 2002).

With The Literature, the music Halley found influential in his formative years steps up on the stage—two compositions by pianist Thelonious Monk, two by alto saxophonist/free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, one from early Miles Davis, one each from Duke Ellington, country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers, Charles Mingus, Mongo Santamaria, The Carter Family, Sun Ra, and "Someday You'll Call My Name," from the Hank Williams songbook.

The eclecticism of his song choices aside, combined with the odd compositional juxtapositions, does nothing to drain even a drop of the intensity and the full-throttle Halley-esque muscularity, cohesion and focus of vision of the set. Monk's "Misterioso" and The Carter Family's "Motherless Children"—that features an ebullient, loping rhythm dished out by drummer Carson Halley and bassist Clyde Reed—exist in the same unique, straight-at-you Rich Halley storytelling universe. Ditto for Jimmie Rodgers' "High Powered Mama" and Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo."

These trio renditions of classic American tunes speak to purity of expression. Uncluttered, bold and powerful—scorching into wild-eyed free jazz territory at times, and completely molded into Rich Halley's musical mindset—closes out with Ornette Coleman's "Law Years." One reviewer, when assessing Halley's 2002 Louie Records debut, Coyotes in the City, commented (paraphrasing here): "First impressions say that Halley sounds like Ornette Coleman, with an attitude, on tenor sax." Coleman was certainly an influence, as was Sonny Rollins. And wouldn't it have been fine if Coleman had played more non-originals? There was Gershwin's "Embraceable You" on This Is Our Music (Atlantic Records, 1961) and "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" on Sound Museum: Hidden Man (Harmolodic/Verve, 1996), and little if anything else. But that's all right. The Rich Halley, a formerly non-originals playing kind of guy, offers up a splendid album of classics on The Literature.

Track Listing: Little Willie Leaps; Misterioso; Chano Pozo; Broad Way Blues; High Powered Mama; Mood Indigo; Brilliant Corners; Motherless Child; Pussy Cat Dues; Kingdom Of Not; Someday You'll Call My Name; Law Years.

Personnel: Rich Halley: tenor saxophone, clapping; Clyde Reed: bass; Carson Halley: drums, clapping.

Title: The Literature | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Pine Eagle Records

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