In 2019, with almost two-dozen albums as a leader, Rich Halley
broke his twenty-year streak of recording without a pianist as part of his various formations. It was Matthew Shipp
who altered the saxophonist's course on Terra Incognita
(Pine Eagle Records) which featured Shipp's trio with bassist Michael Bisio
and drummer Newman Taylor Baker
. That successful project leads to The Shape of Things
, which picks up and moves forward from where that stimulating and satisfying album left off.
Like Shipp, Halley can seamlessly change the pulse of the music and quickly alter the atmosphere. The Shape of Things
opens with "Tetrahedron" and the pressurized but straightforward phrasing from the visceral tenorist. He is quickly joined by Shipp, responding in kind, before Baker and Bisio open up a path for the co-leaders to go their way. Shipp dictates the pacing as "Vector" begins, Halley jumps in to follow, and Bisio has one of several appealing solo spots. After more than twenty minutes of pyrotechnics, the quartet comes up for air on the quirky ballad "Spaces Between." It is a brief respite as "Oblique Angles" does just what the title would suggest; Halley and Shipp take off on an intensely bifurcated exercise, testing the skills of Bisio and Baker.
The album closes with the thirteen-plus minute "The Curved Horizon." Like the opening track, it turns about, measured, angrily persistent, then seemingly cowed by its force, calm. The Shape of Things
demonstrates a quick evolution in this group; the free jazz contribution is more refined, less hectic than on Terra Incognita
. Bisio and Baker have a greater role though the drummer is rarely out in front. The Shape of Things
is predominantly a study in two distinctly complex musical characters, and it is fascinating to hear how they influence each other in the moment.
Tetrahedron; Vector; Spaces Between; Oblique Angles; Lower Strata; The Curved Horizon.