Portland-based saxophonist Rich Halley mines a rich seam, despite plying his wares away from the limelight. Halley has been fortunate to overcome the plight of anyone working outside the main centers of jazz activity by finding a coterie of like-minded talents to sympathetically explore his inside/outside conundrums. As a result his discography contains a stream of solid, timeless dates that ignore current fashion, of which Wisdom of Rocks is just the latest installment. An easy interplay pervades a program of 12 relatively short cuts, distinguished by incisive solo spots, in which the execution goes way beyond the scripted notes.
Evidence abounds throughout the session as to how astutely each player listens and responds. Echoes, interjections and counterpoint emanate from every quarter. The coiled hawsers of the leader's lines and his penchant for rousing overblown gusts recall Archie Shepp in his prime. Trombonist Michael Vlatkovich makes an expressive foil, his burnished delivery becoming suitably down and dirty when the moment dictates. In the engine room, Halley's son Carson enthusiastically conveys a wide variety of rhythmic emphasis, conjuring a flexible swing in tandem with the fluent bass of Clyde Reed. It all comes together on the vigorous flagwaver of "The Atoll," which serves as a spirited introduction to the band.
Although not intricate, Halley's charts provide ample material for soloists to work from. Most pieces follow a head-solos-head structure, but it so neatly done that it doesn't grate. To change pace three group inventions spice the flow. Even here the unit's close knit understanding belies the lack of notation. Halley and Vlatkovich spur each other to greater heights, not only at the handover point between solos, or before the lead in to theme restatement, but also in the free settings. Their extemporized horn exchanges give rise to some exciting passages, notably on the galloping shuffle of "Of Fives and Sixes" and the lilting occasionally blues-tinged title track. Such highlights are many on this well-crafted set.
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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