August 5, 2002

Open Ideas
Palmetto PM 2082

Rich Halley
Louis 025

Making any kind of supposition about albums of improvised music is always dangerous, precisely because you’re dealing with sounds created on the spot. So the casual listener, seeing that one CD here features three of jazz’s 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 Halley’s 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 don’t offer up some good music. It’s 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 don’t 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 three’s individual projects that have been too precious in the bassist’s case; too diffuse in the saxophonist’s; and too few-and-far-between in the drummer’s.

As a matter of fact, it’s Cyrille whose combination of strength and subtly is most remarkable here. Lake, whose playing, when it isn’t standard bebop, surprisingly sounds like a mirror image of Eric Dolphy’s, 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 Taylor’s group; Workman’s employers included pianist Red Garland and flautist Herbie Mann as well as John Coltrane; and Lake’s 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 can’t 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 Reed’s “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 can’t translate into good music if the inspiration isn’t 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 Beethoven’s 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 Halley’s short reading of “Over The Rainbow”, though, which still comes out pretty straight except for some double timing as the end.

Like Rollins, Halley’s 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. Reed’s occasional upfront notes show the economy in his accompaniment. And after the tempo increases on “Back to the 400 Club”, doesn’t 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 Halley’s wood flute solos are one part Rahsaan Roland Kirk and one part blowing a raspberry. Reed even makes one believe he’s 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. He’s 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, it’s 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 Lake’s 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.

Cyrille’s 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, it’s Cyrille rhythm that guides the improvisations, with Lake especially, whether he’s 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 it’s Cyrille who spots a chapeau in the band picture, it’s 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 Dolphy’s old associate Mal Waldron, Lake’s running scads of notes up the scale is identical to one of Dolphy’s 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. Workman’s straightahead “Y2 Chaos” truthfully doesn’t sound any more — or less — chaotic than the other tunes. But just before its conclusion as the band members are trading fours, Lake’s tone morphs from irregular Dolphy-like yelps to smooth, effortless swing à la Johnny Hodges.

“Prophet’s Path”, another of the bassist’s compositions, is an atmospheric ballad introduced by pensive arco bass. Then, as Lake downshifts into the piece’s core, the growls he produces perfectly match Workman’s methodical, lower-register pizzicato and brush work from Cyrille that resembles the scraping sound of a hoofer’s 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 Trio3’s members, there are many interesting parts to this disc, both individually and from the group. It’s certainly worth investigating. But the perception and inspiration of Halley’s 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. Prophet’s 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)