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Rich Halley Quartet
Requiem for a Pit Viper
Pine Eagle Records 003
NotTwo MW 876-2
Now that – neo-cons be damned – Free Improvisation has a half century of history behind it, canny or committed musicians can decide just how supposedly far out they want to be in their playing. Take the two sessions here. With identical instrumentation and recorded within a year of one another, the quartet on the first CD has decided to stick to compositions in the song form while the other opts for almost total abstractions. Neither provides the last word – or is it timbre– on what makes up a definite program of advanced music, but each has come up with a strategy for creating profound, un-clichéd sounds.
Made up of four West Coasters, Requiem for a Pit Viper showcases 10 compositions by Oregon-based tenor saxophonist Rich Halley, who is also a field biologist, and his West Coast confreres. Halley, his son drummer Carson Halley and trombonist Michael Vlatkovich all live in Portland, while bassist Clyde Reed commutes from Vancouver, B.C. The elder Halley and Vlatkovich in particular often play with other regional timbre-experimenters such as reedist Vinny Golia and cornetist Bobby Bradford. Ibsen’s Ghosts on the other hand was recorded in Osolo, the home of the famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. However bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten is the only one of the quartet members to be a native Norwegian, although he now resides in Texas. The other players are from the United States, Chicago, for trombonist Jeb Bishop and drummer Michael Zerang, both of whom have extensive playing experience with the likes of saxophonists Ken Vandermark and Peter Brötzmann, or in the case of tenor saxophonist Joe McPhee, upstate New York. McPhee has been involved with so-called avant-garde since the mid-1960s and is the moving force behind the five, artfully balanced unfettered improvisations here.
Without touching on the song form, the four still manage to maintain a contrapuntal; balance in their playing, even though it soon becomes obvious that nearly every timbre and tone from each of the four instruments is constantly in motion. Whether the horn output is made up of slightly pulsed nearly dormant pure air currents or extended currents of fortissimo squeals and plunger vibrations, the complete interaction never stops chromatically. Håker Flaten’s slaps, pumps, walks and occasional string scrubs contribute to this linear definition, although his work is usually more felt than heard. Meanwhile the variety of polyrhythms that arise from his Zerang’s drum set take up the slack. A low-pitched tongue flutter from Bishop is accompanied by focused cymbal and drum rubs and rolls, for instance; while glottal pressure and stuttering bites from McPhee bring out sympathetic percussion cross pulsing.
Similarly the trombonist and saxophonist take turns expressing themselves upfront or creating supportive tonal accompaniment. Should the saxist tongue-out a harsh staccato line, for instance, then the trombonist counters with a series of rubato snorts and trills. If McPhee’s conclusion to “Improvisation #4” is an approximation of bugle calls; Bishop’s resort is a variant on a primitive field holler.
The four build to the climatic “Improvisation #5”, where as McPhee’s vocalized saxophone lines accelerate to spetrofluctuation and reed-biting whines, Zerang appears to be hitting everything available from rattles to cowbells, and Håker Flaten’s percussive slaps reverberate from loosened strings. Descriptively throughout, Bishop’s grace notes are stretched to such an extent that they seem as much parodies as copies of McPhee’s lines. Finally the horns’ harmonic investigation stretches to parallel improving culminating in dual tremolo tones and tongue pops. Overall it appears that Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts” was more an inspiration than Ibsen’s.
On the other disc Vlatkovich is an expert in contrapuntal development using hand mutes and slide positions to move from near-tailgate plunger snorts to fleet, staccato vibrations. Halley though is more grounded. He can over-blow and flutter-tongue if he wishes, but his solo parameters appear to lie somewhere around the late Coltrane-experimental Rollins axis. You can hear this on those tunes which suggest a hot and sweaty timbral rush by all concerned with Reed’s slap bass and Carson Halley’s popping and rattling. The trombonist seems to fray the time sense and gutturally push the lines up and down as he solos, whereas the saxophonist evidentially prefers a moderato narrative.
This separation is apparent as early as the first and title track, where contrapuntal vamping of spits and smears from Vlatkovich and triple-tonguing from Halley develop in sequence, backed by thick New Orleans-like bass string slaps and hard drum ruffs. But before it flies out of control, the piece is completed with a recapped head. This head-solo-head formalism contrasts with the sensory slurs from the saxman and capillary blats from the trombonist on “Circumambulation”, which are as notable as their earlier lockstep improvising. But as they reach the home stretch of this tune that resembles JJ Johnsons “Mohawk”, a unison return to the head seems mandated.
“Wake Up Line” on the other hand burns with dual high-intensity improvising, as the trombonist’s carefully constructed smears lead to a moderato mid-section, lengthy enough so that the saxophonist can masticate and savor different reed timbres. Still its ending seems to depend on backing out of the tune while exposing theme fragments.
More ambitious is “Subterranean Strut”, with Carson Halley’s paradiddles and ratamacues reflecting Dixieland and Bop territory simultaneously as well as exposing a drum-top sand dance. Vlatkovich operates at full power, giving vent to plunger mute curlicues at the top, and, linked to some snarls from Halley, guffaws as he brings back the theme before the end. The stop-time unison which marks the finale sounds as if it snuck off a New York Art Quartet session and posits how much freer this quartet could have played.
Perhaps all-out experimentation practiced by McPhee and company on the other CD isn’t attractive to Halley and his associates. And after all, his is one solution to the question of playing Free Music. But with the wealth of talent and technique displayed by this West Coast band, maybe trading the clean air of the Pacific Northwest for the colder climate of Scandinavia, at least figuratively, would produce a less structured and more hard-hitting result.
Track Listing: Ibsen: 1. Improvisation #1 2. Improvisation #2 3. Improvisation #3 4. Improvisation #4 5. Improvisation #5
Personnel: Ibsen: Jeb Bishop (trombone); Joe McPhee (tenor saxophone); Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Michael Zerang (drums)
Track Listing: Requiem: 1. Requiem For A Pit Viper 2. Snippet Stop Warp 3. View From The Underpass 4. Circumambulation 5. Purple and Gray 6. Maj 7. Wake Up Line 8. Squeaker 9. Subterranean Strut 10. Afternoon in June
Personnel: Requiem: Michael Vlatkovich (trombone, percussion and squeak toys); Rich Halley (tenor saxophone and percussion); Clyde Reed (bass) and Carson Halley (drums and percussion)
July 21, 2012
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)
June 20, 2011
NOW Orchestra and Marilyn Crispell
VICTO cd 097
By Ken Waxman
Without a whiff of prima-donna-meets-local-musicians attitude, Woodstock, N.Y. pianist/composer Marilyn Crispell is newest out-of-town guest on this collaboration with Vancouvers venerable creative music collective, the New Orchestra Workshop (NOW) Orchestra.
Consisting of a clutch of Vancouvers top improvisers who also lead their own bands, the 13-piece NOW Orchestra has in the past worked with such individualistic composers as Québécois guitarist René Lussier and then California-based trombonist George Lewis. Unlike those strong personalities, Crispell best-known for her tenure in reedist Anthony Braxtons 1980s-1990s quartet assumes the piano chair on Pola as if she has been part of the ensemble for years.
There are detriments as well as benefits to this approach. Performing one of her compositions, three by NOW artistic director multi-woodwind player Coat Cook and one by band member guitarist Ron Samworth, the attitude-free pianist seems to demand no more than her allotted time on each track. At the same perhaps a more dynamic and assertive stance on her part could have prevented some of the CDs weaker spots.
Case in point is the final track, Cooks more than 10½-minute Suffused with Blue Light. Although it consists of similar macro (whole band) and minimal (soloist) fluctuations as the other tunes, the overall muted, massed harmonies are some understated that you suspect aimless noodling not playing in some parts. Near the top highlight is a double double-bass solo from Paul Blarney and Clyde Reed. With one striating the strings near the pegs and the other strumming full-fingered tremolos in mid-range they are one eight-stringed monster, controlling the action with a steady drone. Downside, however, is the overly dramatic acting out of a impressionistic poem by vocalist Kate Hammett-Vaughan, whose whispering reading bring an unneeded solemnity to the proceedings.
Considering Hammett-Vaughan is one of Canadas pre-eminent singers and appropriately showcases her improvisational talents on this disc, the decision to interpret the material that way should probably be attributed to Cooke. Considering that Cooke, who plays tenor and baritone saxophones and flute on Pola, is heavily involved in working with dancers, plus video, film and spoken word artists, the misstep is probably his.
Listing his instruments brings up another of the CDs problems. With three flautists (Graham Ord and Saul Berson as well as Cooke); two alto saxophonists (Bruce Freeman and Berson); and Ord a tenor player along with Cooke; as well as two trumpeters John Korsrud and Kevin Elaschuk naming soloists on each track would make the situation more transparent.
On the upside, Crispells Ying Yang and Samworths M.C., likely written for the pianist are two bang-up examples of what the NOW contributes at its best.
On the former the guitarists rough nylon string plinking circle though the tones as the orchestra slowly insinuates itself onto the track. As the accompaniment moves from being felt to being heard, successive solos are by a closely-breathed flute, sputtering bass work and contrapuntal hide-and-seek among trumpet, trombone and a vibrated tenor saxophone. After a display of near recital-like piano patterning, Hammett-Vaughans wordless soprano moaning brings things to a fitting end.
The vocalists purported speaking in tongues meets up with traffic-jam like reed squeals and clashing cymbals from drummer Dylan van der Schyff in the crescendo of M.C. Beginning with heraldic brass and bird-like reed squeals, the first variation on the initial elegiac line is superseded by strummed arpeggios and patterning from Crispell, unaccompanied, stretched octave final solo turns the polyrhythmic climax into a finale of measured tonality.
A good session that could have been great Pola will interest followers of both the pianist and the orchestra.
July 14, 2006
RICH HALLEY TRIO
Mountains and Plains
Louie Records 035
MICHAEL BLAKE TRIO
Right Before Your Very Ears
Clean Feed CF 044CD
Two saxophonists from the Pacific Northwest one of whom relocated to New York City years ago disprove the old saw about you can take a boy out of the country, but
Portland, Oregon-based soprano and tenor saxophonist Rich Halley, who is also a field biologist, brings a West Coast spaciousness to the nine originals that make up the appropriately titled MOUNTAINS AND PLAINS CD. Saxophonist Michael Blake, who grew up in Vancouver, B.C., yet relocated to Manhattan in 1987, offers up a program replete with Big Apple speed and toughness.
Both saxophonists are seconded by sympathetic associates. In Halleys case, his long-stand trio is filled out by bassist Clyde Reed, who is also an economics professor at Simon Fraser University in a Vancouver, B.C. suburb, and Louie Records recording engineer and proprietor, drummer Dave Storrs. The reedist and drummer have performed together for over 30 years in many different contexts including one most generic for this date, Halleys Outside Music Ensemble, which was formed in 1999 to perform creative music in interesting outdoor settings.
Meanwhile Blakes partners for RIGHT BEFORE YOUR VERY EARS are fellow members of the musician-run Jazz Composers Collective, a non-profit, organization dedicated to presenting the original works of composers. Bassist Ben Allison also has his own groups, Medicine Wheel and Peace Pipe, in which saxman also participates, while drummer Jeff Ballard has worked with both mainstreamers and downtowners.
Oddly or is it appropriately enough, both horn men in intonation and execution are strongly influenced by Sonny Rollins. On balance, after all, it was Rollins in trio configuration, who created the definitive urban portrait East Broadway Rundown, and also recorded the legendary geographic specific WAY OUT WEST LP.
Happily Halley and Blake arent really opposite sides of the Rollins coin, but very much their own men, creators of equally notable dates. Blake may have a slight edge, but thats because he seems more ardent here and willing to stretch himself further.
During the course of his CD, he even tackles a version of Rollins associate Thelonious Monks San Francisco Holiday, with both his horns sometimes simultaneously. However his rubato layering and trilling slurs and glissandi suggests none of Monks horn partners. Blake also exits with a reading of Careless Love thats almost primordial in its artlessness. Ballard shuffles like Baby Dodds and Blakes reed conception is almost completely pre-modern, except for an extended, unaccompanied turnaround that intensifies the improvisation and heats up the bass and drum accompaniment. Mt. Harissa, the sets slow change-of-pace, is treated uniquely, so that it ping-pongs between a contrafact of Round Midnight and an Appalachian ballad.
Other than that, the self-composed originals that make up the rest of the disk bristle with contrapuntal color and POMO strength, skronk-jazz if you need a term. During the course of the CD, Blake introduces curved, Ayleresque vibrations on some tunes and accelerating split-tones on others. In some compositions, he spins out a series of squeaking runs, in others emphasizing careful phrasing for a time then unexpectedly jumping into altissimo. On the smaller horn he can be nasal, but is also able to export rounded textures.
Modern, with a full command of col legno and spiccato runs, nonetheless Allison is capable of slapping a bass line that would have made Pops Foster proud. He and Blake often communicate in broken octaves or double counterpoint. Meanwhile Ballard thumps rolls, bounces and pulses as the occasion demands.
Probably the most self-descriptive moments on RIGHT BEFORE YOUR VERY EARS occur on All of This is Yours, the penultimate track, where the saxophonist sets up an unaccompanied call-and-response section with himself, alternating high-pitched vibrations and honking bass notes, then finally, after luring the other two into the dance, exits with staccato smears and a reverberating body tube vibrato.
West Coaster Halley does nothing as ear-catching as that, but his outdoor-oriented CD, enhanced with photographs of you guessed it mountains and plains, is more organic and earthly, but far from vanishing into New Age solipsism.
Perhaps the most evocative tune is the full band improvisation, Three Way Shapes, where each man works out his proper musical description. Here, on soprano saxophone, Halleys wiggling, Steve Lacy-inflected chirps meet in double counterpoint with the steady bass work of Reed and are punctuated by blunt, echoing strokes from Storrs. With the bass playing appropriately woody and the sax hocketing textures, the piece is a three-way dialogue to the end.
Although he does come up with the odd col legno or sul ponticello passage, Reed is a more prosaic bassist than Allison, preferring to limit himself to producing a steady lope, walking powerfully but unobtrusively in the background. More flamboyant although his vocalizations and whistling wouldnt give Phil Minton or even Phil Collins pause Storrs creates irregular waves of rhythm, wallops and shuffles as often as cross-sticking and drum rattling.
Certain tunes introduce unusual percussion as well. While Before Dawn matches what appears to be the resonation of a toy xylophone with buzzing bass lines and winnowing, musette-like soprano runs, other sounds suggest Aboriginal percussion. Halleys straight-ahead tone is encouraged to spetrofluctuation and concentrated altissimo passages on Long Valley with shaken objects and hand percussion that brings to mind Native Indian tom-toms and Yaqui gourd rattles. And thats not the only spot where the saxophonists masculine tenor saxophone tone is aided and abetted by expanded indigenous-American sounding percussion.
On the most quote, avant-garde, end quote, tune, Halleys Distant Peaks, Storrs whistles and ratchets what sound like tubular bells to join with Reeds chromatic bass strums. Together this interrupts the reedists balanced breathy, slurred textures.
More often than not, as on the more-than-10½-minute The Rub and other pieces, Halley pegs himself as a Rollins man. Biting off swaggering, double-tongued, staccato lines he expels note after note, each one tougher than the next. Dramatically he also exults in upturned sibilant tones that move from stop-time to squeals and reverberations.
Like John Denver, Halley is still a country boy, while Blake a confirmed urbanite. But both they and their trios have created CDs that can be admired in rural, urban and even suburban circumstances.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Mountains: 1. Problematic 2. Long Valley 3. The Rub 4. Before Dawn 5. Three Way Shapes 6. Mountains and Plains 7. Intermountain Rhumba 8. Distant Peaks 9. Winter Sky
Personnel: Mountains: Rich Halley (tenor and soprano saxophones, percussion); Clyde Reed (bass); Dave Storrs (drums, percussion, whistling and vocals)
Track Listing: Right: 1. Run for Cover 2. Funhouse 3. Mt. Harissa 4. Right Before Your Very Ears 5. Flip 6. Fly with the Wind 7. San Francisco Holiday 8. All of This is Yours 9. Careless Love
Personnel: Right: Michael Blake (tenor and soprano saxophones); Ben Allison (bass); Jeff Ballard (drums)
February 20, 2006
RICH HALLEY QUARTET
The Blue Rims
Louie Records 030
ALBERTO PINTON/CLEAR NOW
m.m.p. CD 008
Alternately ascribing a European and an American sensibility to these quartet sessions is a bit simplistic. But the fact remains that its more than serendipity that makes two CDs recorded live in the studio with nearly identical instrumentation about one month apart, both first rate, yet so different.
Perhaps its the combined experience of the musicians in each band, coupled with the fact that tenor saxophonist Rich Halleys four blows flat out on six lengthy compositions, while baritone saxophonist Alberto Pintons quartet spread its music among 14 much-shorter selections.
It may also be cohesion. Halley, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Dave Storrs have played together in and around Portland, Ore. for many years, in a variety of settings. Cornetist Bobby Bradford, the ringer here, is also one of the most adaptable of serious musicians. How else can you explain the dexterity of someone whose brass tones sounded equally at home as part of saxophonist Ornette Colemans spiky, iconoclastic bands and in the formal, yet blues-rooted quartet of the late clarinetist John Carter?
On THE BLUE RIMS, the brassman easily integrates himself into the Halley-Reed-Storrs trio as if his presence was a regular occurrence. Pintons Clear Now is also a regularly constituted band, or at least as regular as one can be where one member, Venice-born Pinton, lives in Stockholm, and the others, bassist Salvatore Maiore, drummer Roberto Dani and Indianapolis-born brassman Kyle Gregory live in Italy.
Recorded in less than four hours, the Oregon session is one of those that distinguish jazz from other kinds of music. With the ADAT machines turned on the morning after an evening concert by the four, they just played -- with a break for sandwiches and stories. The result is the sort of spontaneous and exciting CD that Nashville sweeteners and Los Angles multi-trackers try to duplicate during several months of studio time and usually fail to equal.
Shards of Sky, for instance, finds Storrs beating out a modified march tempo, with the tune itself reminiscent of early Ornette -- and pre-Bradford -- themes. With Reed providing the bottom, the cornetist slurs out a series of bent notes, the tenor man chromatically works his way up his horn to altissimo trills and the drummer adds enough
tambourine sounds to call out the Sally Ann. When Storrs begins worrying his cymbals, Bradford squeals his way upwards in such as way as to recall Work Song until both hornmen turn to a faster, Spanish style vamp. A false ending precedes a coda back in march time.
Another suggestion of how Bradford might have sounded with Coleman, Rat Trap Blues showcases a mixture of walking bass and bouncy drumbeats. Storrs contributes some bass drum accents and Halley introduces a breathy Ben Webster-like tone, complete with a tough vibrato, then doubles the tempo as cornet obbligatos appear. The subtle, professional he is, Storrs drum solo is a brief episode in snare and tom tom foolery without slowing the tune down. Returning to the head, the front line adds variations then exits in higher keys.
The four can be even more outside. Old Fields finds Storrs sounding as if hes producing his percussion underpinning from hand drums while Halley, much freer than elsewhere, constructs a solo that seems to want to find the midpoint between Bags Groove and some of Arthur Doyles drooling sax ejaculations; he even gets into squealing multiphonics at one point. After Reed brings the tempo down with a canon-like bass line, Bradford appears to quote lyrical Italian opera-like arias, while the drummer brings out the triangle and other miscellaneous percussion.
Miscellaneous percussion also makes an appearance on The Stalk where, largo, Storrs almost appears to be sounding Tibetan bells until fleet-fingered Reed turns the piece andante. As Halley elaborates the theme, Bradford sounds as if hes leading a fox chase. Finally, he ends his chromatic trills with a brassy flourish as his rolling liquid tones mate the saxmans mid-range horn honks.
As on its first outing, COMMON INTENT, Clear Now still seems intent on providing more for the consumers dollar, playing 14 tunes in less than 49 minutes. This may be admirable, but as on the bands first CD, it seems that the longer tunes that give the members more room to stretch are superior to the shorties.
For instance, as good as Pintons fleet fingered and flutter tonguing a cappella baritone digressions resonant on Variation On a Ballad Theme, when the tune runs into One Of a Kind (sic), the balladic imagery suggested by the grace notes flowing from the flugelhorn, unhurried plucked bass accompaniment and subtle cymbal pressure give it added strength.
Ditto for Stoneface, where Pintons pedal point bari outpourings, and near Philly Joe Jones bop lines from Dani allow Gregory to sail over the changes. Bringing out his bass clarinet, the reedist unites his tone with low-key muted brass for an Eastern European-style sound excursion as Maiores bass slinks cat-like through the composition.
Or take Dark Déjà Vu, where the drummers chinging triangle recalls a freebop version of the Jazz Messengers. Playing with the facility of a tenor saxophonist, Pinton manipulates his baritone to produce smooth multiphonic cadenzas. Gregory contributes sky high trills -- is he using the piccolo trumpet here? -- and the entire track suggests what would have happened if Lee Morgan and Pepper Adams had been transmutated to the 21st century.
On the other hand, Danis composition, Canzone Per Max and Pintons Calm reference European free music avant garde, something Halley & Co. avoid. The drummer, who has played with such outstanding theorists in that field as tubaist Michel Godard and clarinetist Louis Sclavis, has constructed a slow moving, contrapuntal line, which has only the barest hint of percussion and ends in almost complete silence. Similarly, the reedmans piece is pastorally reminiscent of pre-20th century music, relying as it does on the arco scraping of the double bass.
Whether you like your improv Yank or Continental, theres much to like on both of these discs.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Blue: 1. The Rivers Edge is Ice 2. Shards of Sky 3. The Blue Rims 4. Old Fields 5. The Stalk 6. Rat Trap Blues
Personnel: Blue: Bobby Bradford (cornet, percussion); Rich Halley (tenor saxophone, percussion, whistling); Clyde Reed (bass); Dave Storrs (drums; percussion, whistling)
Track Listing: Terraferma: 1. Paint By Heart 2. Marching Man 3. Untitled 4. Stoneface 5. Fast Forward 6. Variation On a Ballad Theme 7. One Of a Kind 8. Dark Déjà Vu 9. Calm 10. Fragment 11. Open 12. Paradox 13. Canzone Per Max 14. Paint By Heart II
Personnel: Terraferma: Kyle Gregory (trumpet, flugelhorn, Bb piccolo trumpet); Alberto Pinton (baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto flute); Salvatore Maiore (bass); Roberto Dani (drums)
June 30, 2003
Palmetto PM 2082
Making any kind of supposition about albums of improvised music is always dangerous, precisely because youre dealing with sounds created on the spot. So the casual listener, seeing that one CD here features three of jazzs most accomplished sonic explorers, while the other was created by a trio of West Coast journeymen, may expect a lot more from Trio3 than Rich Halleys crew.
In fact, the music produced by reedist Rich Halley, the pride of Portland (Oregon) and his band mates, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Dave Storrs, has just as much -- and in many cases more -- intensity than the session featuring alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille. Not that both dont offer up some good music. Its just that for a variety of reasons, the Left Coasters seem to have a slight edge.
For a start, Lake, Workman and Cyrille are so busy with a myriad of other projects that they dont get to tour and record often enough as Trio3. Taking the time to schedule a recording session for men who are leaders, featured sidefolk in other bands and also teach, can be a scheduling conundrum. At least OPEN IDEAS offers up hearty unhypenated jazz, unlike some other of the threes individual projects that have been too precious in the bassists case; too diffuse in the saxophonists; and too few-and-far-between in the drummers.
As a matter of fact, its Cyrille whose combination of strength and subtly is most remarkable here. Lake, whose playing, when it isnt standard bebop, surprisingly sounds like a mirror image of Eric Dolphys, seems a bit too complacent here, almost as if he was Sonny Stitt making one more horn-and-rhythm LP. As for Workman, his performance, while steady and sturdy, often sounds no more than Workman-like -- pun very much intended.
What many fans forget is how conventional the three can be. After all, Cyrille jobbed with pianists Junior Mance and Mary Lou Williams and saxist Coleman Hawkins before he joined visionary pianist Cecil Taylors group; Workmans employers included pianist Red Garland and flautist Herbie Mann as well as John Coltrane; and Lakes Jump Up and steel drum bands have come a lot closer to pop music then the Human Arts Ensemble and the World Saxophone Quartet.
On the other hand, OBJECTS was recorded in drummer Dave Storrs own studio the morning-after-the-night-before when the three musicians played one of their every-six-weeks club dates in Portland. They cant do so more often. Halley, who trained as a field biologist, also works as a computer programmer and plays with other bands; Storrs has his studio, plus membership in at least half a dozen other musical projects; and Reeds slave is as an economics professor at a university in Vancouver, B.C.
Of course luck has to be taken into consideration as well. All the energy in the world cant translate into good music if the inspiration isnt there. It was, and Halley, who wrote all the compositions here but one, seems to blossom in the company of Reed and Storrs, with the thrust of his improvisations more noteworthy than how he plays with other bands like the more diffuse The Lizard Brothers. The three also had time to stretch out with the shortest original almost nine minutes and the longest almost 16 minutes.
Most impressive on tenor saxophone, Halley has a flinty tone, seemingly influenced by the Sonny Rollins of the 1950s, alive with knife-sharp thrusts, sometimes in single notes, sometimes in altissimo clusters. You can hear this on Grey Stones, where the occasional Albert Ayler-like split tone intrudes as well. He never loses sight of the melody, though, no matter how staccato his delivery. Additionally, before the piece ends with a quote from Beethovens Fifth Symphony, Reed has shown that he can walk with the best of them and Storrs has introduced snare slides and cymbal pops. Frilly ornamentation characterizes Halleys short reading of Over The Rainbow, though, which still comes out pretty straight except for some double timing as the end.
Like Rollins, Halleys less effective on the soprano saxophone. At least he stays away from legato smooth jazz mush, but his pitch has a bit of a burr in it and many times it comes out with a tone that sounds midway between that of a musette and of someone with a blocked nose. Storrs is busiest on the tunes that feature the straight horn, tinkling triangles, ringing bells, shimmering cymbals, tapping on the high hat with brushes and introducing so-called little instruments, which Halley sometimes toys with as well. Reeds occasional upfront notes show the economy in his accompaniment. And after the tempo increases on Back to the 400 Club, doesnt the tiniest snatch of A Love Supreme get played?
With its many tempo changes the almost-16 minute Thickets/Pavement, which evokes both rural and urban life, is obviously meant to be the core of the CD. Certainly Storrs on percussion like agogo (sic) and dejeme, plus falsetto vocal interjections, makes his presence felt, while Halleys wood flute solos are one part Rahsaan Roland Kirk and one part blowing a raspberry. Reed even makes one believe hes stroking an ethnic stringed instrument not his bass. But the real blood-stirring parts appear when Halley sticks to his tenor and stops and starts the melody long enough to showcase some repeated note patterns, heartfelt honks and dirty smears. Hes usually in comfy mid-range when he does this too.
Mid-range is also the adjective that one could select for Trio3. In fact, only Cyrille, both as a writer and player, seems to rise to the occasion. For a start, its likely him who does the sly, Jon Hendricks-like, rapping vocal on Casino, a piece of jive that starts off the date. Humorously enumerating the pitfalls of gambling, the piece features the bass and drums loping along with Lakes alto break out of the Hank Crawford sophisticated-funk school. With its composer banging the cowbell, Casino even has a duh, duh, duh, duuuh ending which is as old as vaudeville.
Cyrilles other composition, 5-4-3-2, is a Latinesque number with a speedy unison theme played by all three musicians. Secure in the catbird seat, its Cyrille rhythm that guides the improvisations, with Lake especially, whether hes smearing notes in the air or honking at the bottom of his sax, returning to the theme for nourishment after each solo foray.
Even though its Cyrille who spots a chapeau in the band picture, its also the alto man who appears to be trying on various hats during the course of the nine tunes here. On Hooray for Herbie, written by Dolphys old associate Mal Waldron, Lakes running scads of notes up the scale is identical to one of Dolphys pet licks, as is his jagged timbre and skittering asides. Bass work is stolid, while it only takes a few flams and rolls for the drummer to show that he can play harder without getting louder.
Workmans straightahead Y2 Chaos truthfully doesnt sound any more -- or less -- chaotic than the other tunes. But just before its conclusion as the band members are trading fours, Lakes tone morphs from irregular Dolphy-like yelps to smooth, effortless swing à la Johnny Hodges.
Prophets Path, another of the bassists compositions, is an atmospheric ballad introduced by pensive arco bass. Then, as Lake downshifts into the pieces core, the growls he produces perfectly match Workmans methodical, lower-register pizzicato and brush work from Cyrille that resembles the scraping sound of a hoofers sand dance. Later, the concluding section of the longest piece on the CD is presaged by some ride cymbal accents and the sort of intense, flamenco pizzicato sound Workman used on Olé, during his tenure with Coltrane -- who may very well be the prophet of the title.
Obviously, especially for the many who count themselves fans of any one of Trio3s members, there are many interesting parts to this disc, both individually and from the group. Its certainly worth investigating. But the perception and inspiration of Halleys three is more impressive.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Objects: 1. Objects 2. The Search 3. Grey Stones 4. Back to the 400 Club 5. Over the Rainbow 6. Thickets/Pavement
Personnel: Objects: Rich Halley (tenor and soprano saxophones, wood flute, percussion); Clyde Reed (bass); Dave Storrs (drums, percussion, vocals)
Track Listing: Open: 1. Casino 2. Hooray For Herbie 3. Open Ideas 4. Y2 Chaos 5. Prophets Path 6. Valley Sketch 7. Willow Song 8. 5-4-3-2 9. Dance 2
Personnel: Open: Oliver Lake (alto saxophone); Reggie Workman (bass); Andrew Cyrille (drums)
August 5, 2002
CARLO ACTIS DATO
USA Tour/April 2001/Live
Splasc (H) CDH 520.2
Someone once said that Benny Goodman didnt smile that much; it was just his embouchure. In Carlos Actis Datos case its not his embouchure. As a matter of fact, if all woodwind players had as much fun improvising as he seems to have, then most sitcoms would have wacky saxophonists as next door neighbors.
Although he brings a goofy sense of fun to the proceedings, be aware that Actis Dato is no Louis Prima or Jack Sheldon who treats the music as secondary to his singing and comedy routine. He may get high spirited enough to sing at certain points of these 13 live performances, but he never debases the music in any way. Like Charles Mingus or Rahsaan Roland Kirk, vocalizing is just his way of showing how well things are going.
In reality, USA TOUR is diary of some of the highlights of his American visit in 2001. Recorded at approximately half of his U.S. appearance that year, the tracks find him partnered with jazz-rockers, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz and bassist Rueben Radding in Seattle; freebopers, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Dave Storrs in Portland, Ore.; and free players, bassist Damon Smith and drummer Gino Robair in Oakland, Calif. Ken Vandermark showed up with his tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet to duet in Chicago, while three outings are solo performances.
Usually wielding his largest horn -- the baritone sax -- Actis Dato excels at these match ups. Think of the colorfully costumed Italian as a lion tamer and his instrument as his feline, and you can hear how he easily puts the king of the reed family through its paces. Making it leap from its highest range down, down to its lowest, then putting it through the hoops of speedy pulsations, pseudo-nursery rhymes and jagged asides, like the best circus performer he does all this without abusing the animal and while communicating his sense of accomplishment.
Double your pleasure -- and fun -- when Vandermark shows up. Sticking to his bottom range and using tongue slaps to cement the rhythmic function, the visitor lets the homie use his higher-pitched axes to slip and slide around these instant compositions. Of course, Actis Dato is a credit to his bass (runs) when he shows that he can still come up with unexpected ways of leading from below. Sometimes, in fact. his tones push Vandermarks to the side so that the Americans sound begins to dances to his reed ruminations.
Robair and Smith, who have experience interacting with adventurous reedists like Anthony Braxton, John Butcher and Wolfgang Fuchs, embroil Actis Datos bass clarinet in pure, non-stop improv. The reedists lower register lines are perfectly matched with Smiths powerful strokes and Robairs percussion. And the two are quick off the mark. When the reedman leads them into high-pitched, nonsense sounds, the drummer responds in kind -- vocally, with slide whistles, toys, shakers and miscellaneous percussion -- while Smiths arco work keeps things on an even keel. Actis Dato is even inspired to bring out his tenor sax for a few pseudo Neapolitan operatic swells leading to several minutes of out and out swing.
Portlands gig is just as interesting. Storrs and Reed are a seasoned bass and drums duo -- check out their trio work with fellow Northwesterner, tenor saxophonist Rich Halley -- and their exuberance clearly inspires Actis Dato. With all three of their numbers given a South American lilt, Actis Dato, on tenor producers a hearty tone midway between playful Sonny Rollins in his West Indian mode and early Gato Barbieri. Vancouver, B.C.-based Reed has played with his share of European explorers and keeps his sound powerful and unvarying, while Storrs shows that a bongos martillo torque and hard bop press rolls can equally be adapted to outside sounds.
Probably the weakest meeting is in Seattle, though. Horvitzs shimmering dance- electronic synthesizer tones sounds more like Manchester (England) pop than committed improv. With Radding far in the background, its up to Actis Dato to inject the fortitude and soul into the proceedings, which he does. Imagine a few overdressed New Romantics being swept out of their wine bar as an R&B sax shouter clomps all over their table and youll get an idea of what the saxist does here. Sometimes, in fact, it appears as if hes in a New Thing space all his own and his angry-sounding vocal interjects make be more than japes.
Although these live excursions suffer a bit from dodgy recording, too many fades in Portland and audible (!) audience cross talk on one Seattle piece, theyre a fine showcase of Actis Dato in full flight. In some cases you could say theyre the next best thing to being there.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Blue 2. Green 3. Brown 4. Poulet Fumé 5. Movin 6. Marina De Caribe 7. Old Time 8. Wonderful World 9. Clarbas 10. Bariten 11. Clabar 12. Witches 13. The Bay
Personnel: Carlo Actis Dato (tenor and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet); plus Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet) [tracks 9-11]; Wayne Horvitz (keyboards) and Rueben Radding (bass) [tracks 1-3]; Clyde Reed (bass) and Dave Storrs (drums) [tracks 5-7]; Damon Smith (bass) and Gino Robair (drums) [track 13]
July 13, 2002
Coyotes in the City
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)
September 24, 2001