Before now saxophonist Rich Halley has chosen only to play original music on all his recordings as a leader. Now, on his twenty-first disc, he changes up and goes back to what he calls "the literature," the music and musicians that influenced his career path. Most of what he covers here is by iconic jazz figures like Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman but he also reveals a few surprise influences.
The music is played by a trio of Halley on tenor saxophone, his son, Carson Halley, on drums and Clyde Reed on bass which interprets these compositions in creative ways that keep the spirit of the originals intact. They painstakingly tread through the intricate themes of Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso" and "Brilliant Corners" before Halley's tenor breaks out into gushing squalls while bass and drums accompany him with a gritty, rolling dialogue. Coleman's "Broad Way Blues" is played at a funky lope dominated by Reed's wobbling bass, while his "Law Years" becomes a thrilling three-way tumble.
Halley's CDs have been pretty intense in the past but this time not everything is a full-on screaming thrash. "Chano Pozo" , a Mongo Santamaria tribute to one of the fathers of Afro-Cuban jazz, has Halley repeating a robust chanting melody over a pounding carpet of drums. Ellington's "Mood Indigo" is played in subdued fashion with Halley blowing the theme with tender vibrato before improvising with a dry wit worthy of Sonny Rollins. Mingus' "Pussy Cat Dues" begins as a screaming blowout then settles into the melody's bluesy swagger, and Sun Ra's "Kingdom Of Not" sounds like basic roadhouse r'n'b, honking tenor over fat, tugging bass and handclaps.
The surprises mentioned earlier are three old country songs from the repertoires of Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family and Hank Williams. These songs are treated with the same enthusiastic respect as the jazz tunes. All feature big singing tenor sounds and heavy, loping bass, but leave room for embellishments like a Rodgers-style yodel by the tenor on "High-Powered Mama," swinging parade drumming on "Motherless Children" and a rush of sax squeals on "Someday You'll Call My Name."
Rich Halley really seems to be enjoying himself here whether gliding lightly along an old country tune, crooning a blue melody or screaming at full blast. Reed and the younger Halley sound like they're having a lot of fun as well. You can imagine them all grinning from ear to ear as they made this. Whether you are new to Rich Halley's music or know it well this is a good place to enjoy the depth and breadth of his sound. It's a delightful recording.
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.
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