Rich Halley 4 – Creating Structure (2015)

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The suitably titled Creating Structure is meant with an emphasis on creating. Tenor saxman Rich Halley is always doing that, performing and recording compositions largely pulled from thin air along with his quartet the Rich Halley 4. It’s gotten so second nature for the 4, so much so that a new album of fresh, inspired improv-heavy tunes that test the outer limits of bop is an annual rite for the group.

But this year, Halley decided to do something a little different. “When we go into the studio, we always do some spontaneous free playing,” explains Halley in the liner notes for the latest Rich Halley 4 album Creating Structure, released last March on Pine Eagle Records. “But on this session, we did more than usual. The band got into a flow and just kept going and we ended up with a bunch of free improvisations.” Improv forms a major part of each of their performances, but this is their first that is entirely that way.

This means that you are hearing the ‘structure’ as it coalesces, and that’s what makes you appreciate even more the chemistry of a band like this one. Rich Halley’s son Carson on drums often plays the catalyst, his rim patter on “Rain Percolates Laterite” gives Rich and trombonist Michael Vlatkovich a runway from which to launch on one of their usual, collegial exchanges. Other times, as on “Angular Momentum” and “The Shove,” there are full-on explosions by Halley and Vlatkovich battling it out but also harmonizing, where Carson keeps a fire lit under them.

The bassist Clyde Reed is hardly left out on the fun, either. Along with Carson, he sets for the general parameters for “Street Rumors,” later jumping in with harmonic counterpoints amid short quips by Halley, as Vlatkovich layers on top of them with complementing expressions. Carson builds a unique rhythm inspired by the other three, turning this thing into a groove of a jagged sort.

A nice, swinging bass walk grounds “Echoes of the South Side,” and Vlatkovich begins “View Through The Ellipse” (an improv recorded a couple of years earlier), with a solemn trombone soliloquy. Reed gets out the bow and blends right in with Halley and Vlatkovich’s swapping of statements.

All sixteen of the improvs run no longer than needed: they let a vibe develop, mine it, and then get out before digressing into mindless noodling. That’s always been the Rich Halley 4 Way, but this time, the wall between composing and performance is removed completely and the results are just as satisfying.

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