June 20, 2011
Rich Halley Quartet
Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival
Pine Eagle 001
Umlaut Records umcd0010
Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic inspiration is now so much a part of the Jazz discourse that its influence keeps popping up in unexpected places – at least as far as the music’s mainstream is concerned.
Consider these two fundamental quartet sessions of original compositions since Coleman’s early quartets which contrasted saxophone, trumpet, bass and drum timbres evidently stimulated their programs. Interestingly enough, both discs were recorded far from the nexus of major Jazz centres. Kege Snö was created in Heby, a municipality in east-central Sweden, not too far from Stockholm. Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival was recorded even further afield, particularly if your Jazz locus is Manhattan, Chicago or Los Angeles. The annual Penofin Jazz Festival takes place in a mountainous region 130 miles north of San Francisco.
Serendipitously as well, each CD features both players old enough to have heard Coleman when he first appeared on the scene and those who arrived long afterwards. Live/ Penofin has the edge this way, since Pasadena, Calif.-based cornetist Bobby Bradford worked and recorded with Coleman himself. The other musicians, who often perform as a trio, are bassist Clyde Reed, an economics professor at Vancouver, B.C.’s Simon Fraser University plus drummer Carson Halley and his father, saxophonist Rich, who live in Portland Oregon. The elder Haley has performed with stylists as different as pianist Andrew Hill and trombonist Michael Vlatkovich.
Educated as a field biologist with an interest in wilderness regions, Rich Halley would seem to have much in common with reedist Roland Keijser, Kege Snö’s veteran player, whose usual genre is blending his reeds with traditional Swedish folk instruments such as fiddle or pipes. However Keijser was part of an early jazz/folk/psych improv band in the early 1970s. His younger associates here are Stockholm-based trumpeter Nikolas Barnö, who leads his own Je Suis band, and works in groups such as Snus with fellow Swede bassist Joel Grip. Representing the Baby Boom generation is resourceful drummer Raymond Strid, often in the company of top-flight innovators such as French bassist Joëlle Léandre or British bassist Barry Guy.
Tellingly, Grip is also part of Peeping Tom, a trio which recasts Bebop classics as Free Music. Kege Snö attempts the same sort of alchemy. Ostensibly drawing on Coleman’s folk-country roots, the 11 compositions, all but one written by Keijser, endeavor to link the Texas musician’s folksy concepts with inflections from Scandinavian folklore.
How well Kege Snö accomplishes this can be heard on a track such as “Bön om bränsle”. Like Masada’s Klezmer-ization of Coleman’s sound, this intermezzo mixes a lilt, probably borrowed from a Swedish folk dance with a fluttering theme which seems to lead back to “Lonely Woman”. Along the way there are quivering grace notes from Barnö and chirping, melodica-like squeezes by the saxophonist, both paced by Grip’s mid-range plucks. Archie Shepp, another of Keijser’s reed influences, who frequently visited Scandinavia, is palpable on “Somnambulism”. A close cousin of “Focus on Sanity”, the tune’s tempo changes are negotiated by Strid’s shuffle-beat. Meanwhile the arrangement plus the slurry tenor sax line sound as if they come from Shepp’s work with the New York Contemporary Five (NYC5).
Additionally, earlier tracks encompassing echoing slurs and grace notes harmonized with reed extensions, suggest Barnö’s familiarity with trumpeter Don Cherry, who bridged membership in the NYC5 and Coleman’s quartet, and who lived for a protracted period in Scandinavia. No imitator, Barnö’s frequent plunger tones and brassy brightness demonstrate his originality. This is most obvious on “Hotell Bristol” and “Sarcoma”. Built on a speedy, agitato head, propelled by Strid’s rolls and rebounds, the latter initially includes contrapuntally linked peeps from the horns, followed by Barnö’s bent-note tonguing and skyscraper-high triplet squeaks. The former tune is more unique, with Keijser moving back-and-forth from Shepp-like snorting and vibrato to bagpipe-like smears from his alto saxophone. After complementing the reed tones with a hand-muted obbligato, the trumpeter soars to popping tones and bent notes, all backed by Strid’s economical rolls and drags.
Naturally Bradford would know how to fragment already dislocated themes from his time spent playing alongside Coleman. But paradoxically, despite his status as the Real McCoy, this live date appears to be more of a conventional affair than Kege Snö. Freebop rather than the Northern European Free Music, the four long selections on Live/Penofin stick closer to the traditional head-solo-solo-solo-head formula that characterized Coleman’s very earliest recorded work, but which he and many other musicians subsequently abandoned.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t first-rate improvising here, especially when all four get a full head of steam going, such as on the nearly 15-minute “Grey Stones/Shards of Sky”. With an assembly line of rattles, rat-tat-tats and rolls from the drummer as well as Reed’s steady string thumping, both horn men’s solos are as multiphonic as they are legato. Halley, for instance, manages to snort, bite and jiggle his notes while playing chromatically. Meanwhile Bradford’s strategy involves brassy runs that take something from “Pop Goes the Weasel” until they evolve into a blues variant. Spurred by woody clanks from Reed, plus ruffs and drags from the drummer, the horns turn to, staccato, call-and-response. Halley’s irregular patterns and double-tonguing match Bradford’s upturned tremolo notes until a climatic turnaround of subtle tongue-twisting from the cornetist and pedal point slurs from the saxman.
Elsewhere Bradford provides a spectacular example of how crying notes plus spetrofluctuation can enliven a brass solo, while still harmonizing with Halley. Little instruments such as wooden claves, bell trees and finger cymbals, more closely associated with the Art Ensemble of Chicago than Coleman, make their appearance elsewhere. They, along with Halley’s biting tenor saxophone runs could have been more prominent on the session’s one misstep, when Reed takes a particularly ponderous bass solo.
Overall however both CD are interesting, both for their individual narratives and also as demonstrations of how deeply Coleman’s once radical breakthroughs have penetrated most Jazzers’ DNA.
Track Listing: Kege: 1. Tusch 2. Somnambulism 3. Odjuret och Odjuret 4. Saababba 5. Flyvebåd 6. Fallgrop 7. Sarcoma 8. Bön om bränsle 9. Maskinpark 10. Hotell Bristol
Personnel: Kege: Niklas Barnö (trumpet and flute); Roland Keijser (tenor and alto saxophones and flute); Joel Grip (bass) and Raymond Strid (drums)
Track Listing: Live: 1. The Blue Rims 2. Streets Below 3. Grey Stones/Shards of Sky 4. The River’s Edge is Ice
Personnel: Live: Bobby Bradford (cornet and percussion); Rich Halley (tenor saxophone and percussion); Clyde Reed (bass) and Carson Halley (drums and percussion)