Saxophonist/composer Rich Halley’s music on this release sits firmly in the “free jazz” category. On this outing, the band’s “Creating Structure” album, the Oregon based tenor maestro delivers power, integrity and improvisation on an almost unparalleled scale. Together with his son Carson on drums, Clyde Reed on bass and Michael Vlatkovich on trombone, percussion and accordion, this quartet have put together an album of fearless avant-garde improv that demands the attention of the listener as soon as it hits our ears. Rich Halley explains: “When we go into the studio, we always do some spontaneous free playing. But on this session we did more of that than usual. The band got into a flow and just kept going and we ended up with a bunch of free improvisations.” This album is released on Halley’s own label, “Pine Eagle Records”, as have been the last few Halley releases, but his output as band leader now stretches to 17 and one can sense the freedom he now operates with on a musical level. Within the leader’s music there is undoubtedly a freedom to probe and investigate, but there is also an emphasis on composition within the group structure. This may well be spontaneous, ideas and musical stories developing within a piece of music as it is performed, but it does create a sense of structure, encapsulated within the free improv. Ultimately this does give the general jazz listener a point of reference with some tunes, something to hold on to. As Halley puts it: “We try to develop each piece with the right balance of tension and release to create a coherent musical statement. Even when we play free, we play grooves a good part of the time. Jazz has always been about rhythm and we use the whole history of the music as grist for our improvisational mill.”
“Creating Structure” presents us with 16 spirited and dynamic pieces of music. Stand-out tracks for this listener include the opener, “Analog Counterpoint” with its hard-working drum and bass groove that allows Halley’s intrepid tenor to explore and extrapolate. “Riding The Trade Winds” begins in a questioning, probing fashion, with Halley’s earthy sax supplying the answers. The fast flowing “Angular Momentum” takes us on a journey with all four protagonists going for broke, cascading interplay between Halley and Vlatkovich at its heart. Much of the quartet’s music here creates pictures from sound, none more so than on the excellent “The Shadow of Evening”, a slower piece with a warm and soulful tone. Vlatkovich’s trombone begins the adventure on “View Through the Eclipse” before enlisting the help of the tenor to take us further. There is both integrity and humour here as the piece develops. “Echoes of the Southside” highlights the wonderful unity between drums and bass, giving us a masterclass in how to propel a tune from its exhilarating bass intro through to its walking, talking conclusion. And the closing track “The Response” has a twisted film score-esque musicality to it that makes me smile.
Free-jazz enthusiasts will love this album. And if you do fall into this camp of musical exploration and fierce improvisation, you should undoubtedly put this recording at the top of your wish list. You will not be disappointed.