Rich Halley - Terra Incognita

Label: Pine Eagle Records, 2019

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


Tenor saxophonist Rich Halley explores new music with a gutsy new quartet on his most recent outing, Terra Incognita. For this experience, he recruits the Matthew Shipp Trio to support him, which, besides the formidable pianist, includes bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker.

From the bravura call-and-response of the opening track (“Opening”) to the rhythmically loose-limbed conclusion (“The Journey”), erratically expressed with obscure piano voicings and bop accents, one can’t help being engulfed by the album's high concentrations of energy.

Attempting to find common parallels , the quartet creates without bounds, embarking on atonal spiritual quests, fast swinging rallies, and circumspect interactions.They take us to both recondite and familiar places.

Both the bluesy, riffy “Forager” and the febrile “Centripetal” are permeated with Coltranean extrapolations and momentary giddy whinnies that become central in the scrabbling interplay and avant-jazz roaming agreed by the quartet. The latter piece runs at full-pelt, presenting a mightily swinging bass/drums alliance and hectic chordal movements that culminate in striking turmoil. The magnetic finale, outstandingly crisp and tight, shows attentive musicians working with a similar disposition.

Investigative and cautious, “The Elms” has Shipp operating with an oneiric intonation. He shares a furtive melodic sequence with Halley, and makes the temperature drop with piercing notes that sound as big and cool as they are sharp and stimulating. By comparison, the title track, a freewheeling ride, shows the pianist building ad-libbing background through the use of micro-phrase flashing and also corresponding to the saxophone irruptions with instinctive reactions.

Terra Incognita consists of brutally honest music and free jazz surfers will find pretty consistent waves to ride.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Opening ► 03 - Centripetal ► 06 - The Journey

Rich Halley 3 - The Literature

Label: Pine Eagle Records, 2018

Personnel - Rich Halley: tenor saxophone; Clyde Reed: double bass; Carson Halley: drums.


Tenorist Rich Halley, a native of Portland, releases The Literature, his first album of covers in 20 years. With bassist Clyde Reed and his drummer son Carson Halley, he homages musicians who influenced him in a career that spans almost 40 years. The powerhouse trio plunges directly into the eclectic jazz of Miles Davis with “Little Willie Leaps”, a groundbreaking oeuvre where Rich’s effulgent tone resonates fabulously. Navigating avant-jazz logic sequences with enjoyable expansions and contractions, the trio takes the blues as their final destination. The genre is also brought up on Ornette Coleman’s playful “Broad Way Blues”, Jimmie Rodgers’ vintage number “High Powered Mama”, and Charlie Mingus’ “Pussy Cat Dues”, another blues-saturated shout primarily furnished with free instrumental rambles.

The burning “Law Years” is another one by Ornette, in which the saxophonist initially echoes the bassist’s phrases but concludes it in unison. Without surprising, he borrows two famous pieces from Monk, putting his own stamp on them. “Misterioso” is given a vagrant impression as he improvises over a diffuse rhythm that later gains a Latin touch; in turn, the snake-charming “Brilliant Corners” is shouted with honking low notes of considerable rhythmic impact in an avant-gardish setting that integrates a hard-swinging gush.

Also swinging, Sun Ra’s early composition “Kingdom of Not” is marked by an irreverence that stems from the saxophonist’s inventive lines, whereas “Mood Indigo”, a classic ballad by Duke Ellington, has its soothing melodies sliding over the supportive, malleable rhythmic conduction of pizzicato bass and murmuring brushed drums.

The bright percussive allure of the drummer stands out on “Chano Pozo”, a composition by Mongo Santamaria that merges jazz and Latin, and on “Motherless Children”, which cheerfully revives the early country/folk music of The Carter Family.

Although not choosing a tune from Charlie Parker, Halley imprints a vinyl of Bird Symbols on the cover of his album, another way of paying tribute to the bop giant. Comfortably straddling the familiar and the adventurous, the trio packs their infectious playing with grit, tenacity, and explorative vein.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Little Willie Leaps ► 07 - Brilliant Corners ► 12 - Law Years

Rich Halley / Carson Halley - The Wild

Rich Halley: tenor saxophone, wood flute; Carson Halley: drums.

rich-halley-carson-the- wild-2017

Rich Halley, a tenor saxophonist and composer born and based in Portland, is a confessed enthusiast of asymmetric compositions and an inveterate improviser whose approach ranges from mildly melodic to unruly powerful. 

Since 2011, he has released at least one album per year, most of them with his quartet known as Rich Halley 4, which includes trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, bassist Clyde Reed, and drummer Carson Halley, his son. The latter conceived the rhythmic structure in The Wild, a duo album with his father, released on Pine Eagle Records.
Last year, Rich decided to extend the band into a quintet, with the inclusion of multi-reedist and frequent collaborator Viny Golia. The resultant album, entitled The Outlier (Pine Eagle, 2016), was one of the most satisfying avant-garde works of the year, deserving a lot more exposure.

The Wild is a collection of eight free-form improvisations where father and son explore their interactive affinity with ample vision.
The first two tracks, “Wild Land” and “Progenitor”, take us to the universes of Coltrane and Ayler, bursting with forcefulness and often humor. In the latter, Carson modulates taut drum chops, culminating in a great solo moment, while Rich starts with a dark, low-pitched tone that, at intervals, changes to fleshy and sparkling.

The adjective wild can be perfectly applied to “Cursorial”, a piece where Rich explores sonic possibilities, phrasing vigorously on top of an uptempo beat well-marked by hi-hat and snare drum. Carson adorns it with revolutionary fills. I love how this tune ends.

The opulence of mutable African grooves drives Rich’s fiery saxophone throughout the disquieted “From Memory”. In turn, “The Stroll” vibrates with syncopated funk-rock pulses while evincing the audacity of the saxophonist who, despite freewheeling, doesn’t abstain from introducing tractable melodies. 

More reflective are “Fat Plane of the Sky”, which plays with silence and sound, and “The Old Ways”, which takes us to exotic and ancient countries through the sounds of Rich’s wood flute and Carson’s primitive approach.

The Wild serves as a showcase for father and son to explore multiple textures and timbres within a unique musical approach.
It’s always challenging to make saxophone and drums sound consistently good, but the Halleys felt at 'home', with sufficient space for their creative freedom.

         Grade  A-

         Grade A-

Label: Pine Eagle Records, 2017
Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Progenitor ► 05 – Cursorial ► 07 – From Memory