Accomplished saxophonist Rich Halley has an easily recognizable style which is marked with his brassy, rough-hewn tone, innovative ideas and simmering passion. After starting his own Pine Eagle label, in 2010, Halley added eleven stimulating albums to his discography, featuring bassist Clyde Reed and his son, drummer Carson Halley. In 2019 Halley started fronting the equally distinctive Matthew Shipp Trio. The fiery and captivating The Shape of Things is the quartet's second collaboration and expands on the themes explored on its superb debut, Terra Incognita (Pine Eagle, 2019).
For instance, the dynamic "The Curved Horizon" opens with Shipp's furiously percussive chords and Halley's blistering phrases. The pianist's resonant keys echo against drummer Newman Taylor Baker's thundering beats while Halley blows his tenor with bold swagger, laced with hints of melancholy. Bassist Michael Bisio anchors the riotous repartee with his agile lines and, later, contributes to the trio's crystalline and vibrant refrains. His solo is beautifully abstract and sublimely lyrical, delighting with its emotive depth and introspection. On the track's second half Halley's improvisation and his exchanges with Shipp become more wistful. Meanwhile Baker takes his turn in the spotlight, with thrilling polyrhythms.
Equally poignant, although a tad more serene, is the indigo hued "Vector." The tune starts with a laid-back, blues-tinged, ensemble performance which alternates between swinging with fervour and flirting with dissonance. Halley's warm and turbulent musings are contemplative and elegant, with hints of angularity. Shipp demonstrates a masterful pianism which remains rooted in the mainstream while borrowing from the western classical repertoire as well as freer genres. A more tempestuous group sound ushers in the elegiac conclusion.
The haunting "Spaces Between" is a somber piece which demonstrates the group's inner synergy at its best. Halley's pensive sophisticated song meanders within Shipp's forlorn, shimmering keys. Baker's percussion rustles and thuds enhancing the expectant mood while Bisio contributes reverberating, meditative strums. The overall atmosphere is poetic and brims with a primal spirituality.
After a career spanning four decades Halley remains a restless explorer of extemporized music. His creative zeal remains unabated and his partnerships with equally brilliant and idiosyncratic artists result in a superlative oeuvre. The Shape of Things is another singular and imaginative work that moves, provokes and rewards even after multiple "spins."
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