Rich Halley 5 – The Outlier (2016)

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The Outlier is powerfully descriptive of any combo led by saxophonist Rich Halley, whose heavily improv-based jazz lies somewhere outside the boundaries of mainstream jazz while his Portland, Oregon location is far away physically from New York, Chicago, LA or any of the other jazz hotbeds. Halley’s balls-out approach to the idiom amid slower, remote environs makes it easier for him to create music in a vacuum, away from the hustle, bustle and competition that can add to the stress inherent with competing for ears in Gotham.

Perhaps it’s this solitude — and having a steady lineup in his combo of Mike Vlatkovich (trombone), Clyde Reed (bass) and son Carson Halley (drums) — that’s resulted in such consistently simpatico and emotion-laden albums in spite of his torrid, one album-per-year output pace.

Besides sticking with his long-time cohorts, Halley continues the pattern of mixing open-ended compositions with group improvisations, and as usual, the improvs have so much definition and character, it’s often hard to tell which of the two types a performance falls under. However, the true distinction of Halley’s nineteenth album is that the Rich Halley 4 grows to a Rich Halley 5 with the addition of premier California reedman Vinny Golia.

“Recipe For Improvisers” is not, however, not one of those group improvs; after a intro that shares a blues-y dirge feel with Monk’s “Pannonica,” the group launches into a funky strut and Vlatkovich, Halley and then Golia (on baritone sax) start a succession of puckish, bending utterances, with Golia’s coming in just as a new motif is introduced with only Reed backing him up; the funk then turns to swing. Halley invests his typical heated solo on “Urban Crunch,” where this time the song turns on Vlatkovich’s turn, and attains cruising speed by the time Golia is at bat with his bass clarinet.

“Green Needles” again features stellar individual performances from all three of the front line players, but Reed and the younger Halley are roiling the waters with ever-shifting rhythms that adjust in real time to the soloists. The somber, blue “Du Fu’s Stew” falls into an uneasy peace, out of which Halley (on bass clarinet) deliver aching phrases with Reed (on arco bass), Vlatkovich and Golia maintaining the gloomy mood.

The bass clarinet that Golia offers on “Reciprocity” brings back the ghost of Eric Dolphy and Halley does a brittle dance with Reed. Carson Halley and Reed syncopate on a marching foundation for “The Nuthatches” and the three front men maneuver artfully around it. Later, Carson goes off to races and Reed eventually follows during Golia’s bass clarinet solo.

The group-composed pieces are full of earnest sentiment and surprise: “Around The Fringes” gestates from a single, quivering note of Reed’s bass, upon which Vlatkovich conjures up a short, repeating figure and Halley chases him about a half step behind with his own variation of that figure. “The Way Through” manages to be majestic in its spontaneity, while “Long Blue Road” is a galloping swing that provokes a blowing session of Halley, Golia (bass clarinet) and Carson.

Make no mistake, NYC has by far the biggest concentration of jazz talent in the world, but jazz is always enriched by perspectives originating far away from there. With a clear head and a strong sense of purpose — and the like-minded Vinny Golia on board — Rich Halley keeps on producing abundantly creative modern jazz firmly grounded in all the great traditions of the music form.

The Outlier was made available for sale July 1, 2016 through Pine Eagle Records.

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,, 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
S. Victor Aaron
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