Over the span of a uniformly superb career, saxophonist Rich Halley and his working quartet have blended sophisticated style and unbridled vigor into impeccable performances that brim with creative energy. Their fourth release The Wisdom Of Rocks is no exception. What is unique about this provocative and exhilarating record is its unadorned beauty and mordant sound. Like the title insinuates, a pervasive theme is a raw, almost primal erudition that permeates its dozen, mostly, short tracks.
The hard-hitting "The Atoll" opens the disc with an intense sonic gust. After a powerful series of musical blows, Halley and trombonist Michael Vlatkovich's growling and rousing exchange of spontaneous ideas takes center stage. The piece also features a sophisticated and at the same time an elementally muscular duet between drummer Carson Halley's thrilling polyrhythms and bassist Clyde Reed's deep, smoky reverberations.
Collective expression is also an integral part of the album. The eerie, mystical "Faint Scattered Lights" for instance is a stark, yet multifaceted group chant that sets an expectant mood and leads into the tense and funky "The Get-Go." Here too, there is an economy of embellishment that enhances the raw passion of the original melody. Halley's incandescent tenor swaggers over simmering, percolating rhythms while Vlatkovich's growling horn follows him in the spotlight with soulful agility.
A stimulating and exemplary camaraderie marks such gems as "Tale By Two." The ardent duet between Rich Halley and his son Carson evolves elegantly and with a visceral punch as each man builds upon the other's impromptu ideas. The tightly swinging and boisterous "Of Fives And Sixes" is structured around the ensemble improvisation with each musician fading in and out of the spotlight with intelligent and fervent brief solos.
Additionally there is a fair amount of poetry, laced with an organic timeless sagacity, like a roughhewn Haiku rhyme. On the languid and contemplative "Heat In May" Carson Halley's soft brushes and Reed's wistful strings frame Vlatkovich's lyrical extemporization and Rich Halley's evocative and pensive saxophone. The achingly gorgeous and vibrant tune closes on a melancholic tone.
A tour de force, Wisdom of Rocks is a standout in Halley's superlative discography. It is simultaneously a distinctive work and an integral part of his impressive oeuvre with his current band of Vlatkovick, Reed and Carson Halley. It is electrifying, emotive and cerebral in a way only uninhibited and brilliant musicianship can be.
The Atoll; Trip Through Turbulence; A Brief Note; The Wisdom of Rocks; Faint
Scattered Lights; The Get Go; Heat in May; Tale By Two; Radial Symmetry; The
Semblance of Stealth; Of Fives and Sixes; Conversation in Blue.
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