Coyotes in the City
Louie 021

Untamed beauty typified by mountains, forests and plenty of rain are what most people think about the Pacific Northwest. Yet, judging from this and other sessions from the West Coast Canadian and American population centres, there are as many wild musicians as wild animals in the area.

Consider the three represented on this unadorned but effective CD, who recorded the tracks in one take in a small studio near Portland, Ore. Leader, heavy-toned saxophonist Rich Halley, who was educated as a field biologist and also works as a computer programmer, wrote most of the compositions for open-air concerts he was doing in a nearby nature park. Inventive percussionist Dave Storrs is also a studio owner and recording engineer. He and Haley have played together in the Portland area for about 30 years. Clyde Reed is not only a steady bassist and one of the founders of Vancouver, B.C.'s NOW Orchestra, but also an economics professor at a university in that city.

Only three players means there are plenty of wide-open spaces available to stretch out in on the six compositions. But despite that and the rustic outdoor suggestions of the titles, this is not an environmental recording with sounds designed to reflect Mother Nature. A lot of what's played here simulates the freedoms worked out in smoky East Coast bars and European cabarets, as much as natural settings.

In short, Halley, best-known as leader of the Lizard Brothers, and who has performed in R&B and Latin bands as well as with the likes of Julius Hemphill and Andrew Hill, is an inside-outside player who references tenor titans like Sonny Rollins as much as the coastal mountains.

Most illustrative of the tracks is the title number, which features the reedist on all of his horns. His pastoral wooden flute respires in the middle section, echoed by bass string plunks and cowbell strokes. But that soon give away to piercing, soprano saxophone lines, where he spews out so many notes he threatens to get ahead of the melody. An inventive yet lyrical bass pattern blends with the horn as the percussionist concentrates on cowbells and cymbals. Finally the piece ends with spume of northwestern air blown through the saxophone.

Halley's liquid soprano sound is given a workout on "Crows", backed by a cushion of drumstick rubs then palm strokes on the toms, plus an unvarying bass pattern. When he turns to tenor saxophone, Halley changes the rhythm, doubles the tempo and gets a righteous, raspy buzz in his tone. Articulated single notes may characterize some of his playing, but so do extended passages of glottal split tones.

Malleable in his soloing, the reedman's occasional renal squeaks can suggest the most alienated of energy players, as does his tart tone. However, he can also easily construct gutsy ballads like "Green Dusk" or "Half Light" that appear attached both to standards and Ornette Coleman's earliest LPs, which, after all, came from the West Coast. Seemingly unflappable, Storrs and Reed putter along, no matter what surprises the saxophonist throws their way.

In North America's earliest days, explorers spent a lot of time unsuccessfully searching for a Northwest Passage to the spice route. However if jazz fans are looking for some spicy playing and new musical routes, a passage to the modern Northwest would seem to be more in order.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Green, Brown and Blue 2. Green Dusk 3. Crows 4. Half Light 5. Coyotes in the City 6. Rimrocks

Personnel: Rich Halley (tenor and soprano saxophones, wood flute, percussion); Clyde Reed (bass); Dave Storrs (drums, percussion)