Rich Halley 4 – Crossing The Passes (2013)

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Rich Halley is a DIY guy in the jazz world, just as he’s a free spirit in his personal life. Last summer, he took his son Carson and a nephew out hiking the entire range of the Wallowa Mountains in eastern Oregon. The experience gave a unifying theme and purpose for his fifteenth and latest album, Crossing The Passes. Once again, we have fresh new compositions performed by Rich (tenor sax), Carson (drums), Michael Vlatkovich (trombone) and Clyde Reed (acoustic bass), and like the enjoyment he got from the challenge climbing peaks and traversing the rugged terrain, so does he thrive in jazz music with that kind of topography.

Halley sought changing up some things for Passes, but thankfully, he didn’t depart from his basic style, using hard bop as a jumping off point for expressive, open ended melodies and various little excursions away from that template in a loose-limbed, nervy and even witty way.

The distinction, although peripheral, is that there are more stylistic and tempo change up within songs. There are toe-tapping funk grooves on “Traversing The Maze and “Smooth Curve Of The Bow,” and the subtle rhythmic shifts on “Basin And Range” that changes the dynamic of the song from underneath, and where the traditional barriers between the front line and the rhythm section are totally demolished on “Crossing The Passes.” All that puts a lot of impetus on Carson Halley to deliver, and his assured ability to does a lot for these songs and making them come off the way his Dad surely intended.

Another focal point, as it always is, is the excellent rapport between Halley and Vlatkovich. Vlatkovich never has to play over the top to make his impact, because his lightly playful, prowling and pleading utterances has loads of personality. Halley himself flaunts his big, wide tone and daring delivery that never loses its way. Together, they just seem to know instinctively when to pair up on thematic lines, spar with other and comp for one another. “Looking West” is a fine example of how both are able to stretch out and mind the melody at the same time, while “Rain, Wind and Hail” features some great simultaneous improvising by them.

Reed plays a significant role too, since there are not chordal instruments in this band. His circular bass line forms the basis of the tune “Rain, Wind and Hail,” and he works well with Carson Halley on that groove that drives “Traversing The Maze.” He’s inserted into the front line for a while with his bowed bass for “Smooth Curve Of The Bow,” and his sawing around that funky beat is one of the highlights of the whole album.

A trip to the mountains can do much to clear the head and get the creative juices flowing. Not that Rich Halley needs any help to make inspired music, but if that’s what made Crossing The Passes another strong effort by him, he can head to the Wallowa Range every year as far as I’m concerned.

Crossing The Passes, by Pine Eagle Records, is now available for sale. Visit Rich Halley’s site for more info.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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