Essentially free jazz or avant garde were terms coined after critics got their first tastes of Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman or Ivo Perelman. There is no acceptable or definitive definition of free jazz other than the appreciated fact that free jazz came into play as the average critic didn't have the slightest musical clue or skill to describe the improvisational music they were attempting to pass critical review on. I like to keep things simple so as a musical frame of reference think of free jazz as hard bop on steroids where the accepted form and functionality of the traditional western improvised music referred to as jazz are chucked right out of the proverbial sonic window. Free jazz is an acquired taste.
The Rich Halley 4 and Back From Beyond finds that music happy place somewhere between Johnny Griffin's landmark release A Blowing Session (Blue Note 1957) and Ornette Coleman's iconic offering of The Shape Of Jazz To Come (Atlantic 1959). Back From Beyond features ten original compositions performed with an unbridled lyrical intensity and creativity that is of far more substance than the self indulgent if not pretentious pyrotechnics served up by some of the more free jazz artists of note today. Not familiar with Rich Halley? This particular release is the follow up to "Requiem For A Pit Viper", which received critical acclaim from such respected publications as The Village Voice, All About Jazz and Lucid Culture to name but a few. While New York City is the mecca or sonic ground zero for the free jazz movement, Halley resides in Portland Oregon. The irony of Halley's choice of residence confirms that location is perhaps not nearly as important as made believe by the hundreds of musicians moving to the Big Apple on an all most monthly basis.
There is a vibrancy of spirit to this recording. Halley and his highly formidable 4tet place themselves out front proudly wearing their musical hearts on their sleeves. Halley's musical voice on tenor comes from a deep and bold sonic color palette. While others that play a similar style are content to wail, Halley digs deep into the dark recesses of a lyrical soul giving his compositions a three dimensional sonic depth of field while remaining accessible. Too many free jazz artists attempt to dance to close to the edge of accessibility with this most daring of sub genres with the end result being their attempt falling into a musical abysses and taking the listener with them. "Back From Beyond" is the title track and does not push the harmonic envelope but sends it out return receipt! Perhaps the finest example of Halley's respect of old school Ben Webster combined with pushing the music forward with improvisational exploration similar to an Ivo Perelman. "Spuds" both open and closes with a similar riff but covers a most expansive lyrically based dynamic range in between. There is a more mysterious quality to "Basalt" which at times seems like a great tune desperately seeking a fine feature film.
Working without the stereotypical harmonic net and with the ability to play wide open while changing dynamics on the fly finds The Rich Halley 4 as perhaps the best kept secret in free jazz today. Far from a self indulgent one man band, this 4tet plays with tremendous energy, spirit and a musical cohesion rarely heard in this setting.
Tracks: Spuds; Section Three; Reorbiting Sun Ra; Solanum; Opacity; Continental Drift; Broken Ground; The Mountain's Edge; Basalt; Back From Beyond.
Personnel: Rich Halley: tenor saxophone, wood flute, percussion; Carson Halley: drums, percussion; Clyde Reed: bass; Michael Vlatkovich.
The Rich Halley Trio from You Tube.