Rich Halley: The Shape Of Things

Dan McClenaghan By

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Rich Halley: The Shape Of Things
Nobody rips it up like Portland, Oregon-based tenor saxophonist Rich Halley. Whether he is playing with his West Coast crews on sets like The Literature (Pine Eagle Records, 2018) or The Outlier (Pine Eagle Records, 2016), or recording with his New York City compatriots on Terra Incognita (Pine Eagle Record, 2019). And now we have—with, again, the New Yorkers—The Shape of Things, where Halley continues to prove he can be counted on to shake the walls and rattle the windows with a category four sax sound.

Halley's NYC running mates are pianist Matthew Shipp—a player possessed of his own idiosyncratic intensity—bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker. Before his 2018 hookup with these guys, Halley had rarely gone onto the bandstand or into the recording studio with a pianist in tow. Maybe finding a place inside Halley's torrential style played out as problematic for the more faint of heart eighty-eighters. Or maybe Halley just likes the chord-less freedom that going pianoless affords. This is speculation, of course, but a couple of things are obvious about Matthew Shipp: he doesn't fit into the "faint of heart" grouping—he can go head-to-head with pretty much anybody "out there"—and in spite of boasting Halley-sized, in-your-face capabilities, Shipp can also be counted on to engage in nuance, intricate subtleties and straight ahead beauty, to go along with his bold ability to engage in a tumultuous, rumble-in-the-alley interplay with Halley, Bisio and Baker.

So what do we have here with The Shape Of Things? It opens with 'Tetrahedron," a clamorous, wailing diatribe, with Halley and Shipp sounding like a pair of fire and brimstone preachers bordering on derangement, brimming with and spewing the Holy Spirit. Then the the band pulls back about seven minutes in, shifting into a dark, moody, balladic frame of mind, with Halley channeling his inner Ben Webster, while Shipp escapes gravity's usually relentless grip, creating notes and chords that sound like bird flight, before the intensity cranks up again and the Earth's pull reasserting itself.

"Vector" rolls into a near mainstream groove initially, with Shipp sounding assured and centered in the vortex of a good time, while "The Curved Horizon" erupts from the get-go, Halley blowing off the hot steam that rises from the liquified magma, while Shipp, Bisio and Baker launch flaming rocks in a three hundred and sixty degree circle as the Earth quakes, and a post-explosion sea of rhythm section lava flows down the mountainside.

As always with Rich Halley, it is a wild ride and rewarding ride. Strap yourself into the listening chair and hold on.

Track Listing

Tetrahedron; Vector; Spaces Between; Oblique Angles; Lower Strata; The Curved Horizon.


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

Album information

Title: The Shape Of Things | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Pine Eagle Records

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