Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Rich Halley 3's The Literature

Saxophonist Rich Halley has released twenty albums of original compositions, and for release #21 he has decided to pay tribute to his mentors, legendary jazz performers and composers such as Monk, Coleman, Mingus, Ellington, Sun Ra and Miles Davis. This sounds like a fairly straightforward project, but Halley isn't a by-the-books kind of arranger. He and his trio (bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley) live on the cusp of free jazz. That means Halley likes to preserve the original themes, often starting out with a coherent interpretation that is eventually and sometimes suddenly deconstructed in very unusual ways.

Sure, there a wild moments of chaos here and there, but the surprise here is that Halley's brand of free jazz is more introspective than most. This is, for lack of a better word, intimate free jazz borne from a stripped down trio where every instrument is dissected and laid out on the table for the listener to examine. Most trio albums have what I like to call a "crawl around inside" feel to the instrumentation. On The Literature, however, you get to explore every nook and cranny of tenor sax, bass and drums. In addition, you're treated to a clarity of thought that makes these tunes far more accessible than you'd expect.

That means you're getting complex renderings of these three musicians during their solos--there's a starkness to this recording that lets you dig right in and hear details that are often buried in more commercial jazz recordings. Halley's sax is perfectly melodic for most of these songs--the press kit mentions Sonny Rollins and I definitely hear those honey-dipped phrasings. The younger Halley is Rich's son, and he can deliver in a number of jazz styles, but I'm most impressed when he lets his tribal side emerge and he lets loose with a rolling, thunderous beat that creates plenty of tension. His work on his loose and snappy snare is also a pleasure to hear. It's also a pleasure to spend plenty of time in the cavernous recess of Reed's bass. I feel like I've been neglecting bassists lately--I realize that my last couple of reviews completely failed to mention them, which was not on purpose. But Reed is given plenty of opportunities in the spotlight, and his bass is earthy and he extracts a unique tone during his solos.

The Literature is not one of those wild and out-of-control free jazz albums that I periodically tackle. If you're flummoxed by one song, don't give up--there are different degrees of deconstruction here and you might be surprised when one clicks with your sensibilities. The trio's take on Ellington's "Mood Indigo," for example, consists of a very unusual arrangement that nevertheless preserves that one-of-a-kind melody, one that usually disconnects me from my troubles and causes me to float off into the distant past. Free jazz, after all, is about finding an entry point and jumping into the fray. There are plenty of spots to jump into here, and that makes The Literature one of the most intriguing and enjoyable free jazz expeditions I've joined.

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