Rich Halley 3 – The Literature (2018)

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For his twenty-first album, Rich Halley has recorded a collection of covers, a left turn from a saxophonist who’s capable of uncorking one with every breath. The Literature is a very useful glimpse into the elements that provide some context for the tenor sax style of Halley, who is one of the best pure improvisers on his horn at the present time. Just from the song selection, it can be gleaned that Halley’s primary influences come from mainstream jazz (Miles Davis) to avant-garde jazz (Ornette Coleman), blues (Jimmie Rodgers) and even traditional country (Hank Williams, The Carter Family).

One thing that’s not much different from his other twenty records is Halley’s penchant to surprise: you never know how far inside or outside he’ll go, but he’s just as good in either direction. And he knows just when to end a song before it devolves into a bunch of noodling around. For the covers record, Halley turns to his trio, comprising of just him, Clyde Reed on double bass and son Carson Halley on drums. That keeps things lean, exposed and as forthright as possible.

Monk gets represented twice, as does Coleman, which points to Halley’s love of the creatively offbeat. The added wrinkle in “Misterioso” comes not so much from Halley, but from Carson, who with assistance from Reed undertakes an interesting staggered rhythmic path that somehow meshes with the familiar succession of notes being uttered from the sax. “Brilliant Corners” is a gauntlet of a song, a test of mettle, and the three opt to play it straight, which is a wild enough ride but they stay firmly mounted on the bull. The rhythm section slides a funky backbeat underneath Coleman’s “Broad Way Blues.”

“Little Willie Leaps” is one of Miles Davis’ earliest songs, recorded while still part of Charlie Parker’s group and a perfect way to illustrate the straight line that can be drawn between classic bebop and avant garde jazz; in its day bebop itself was considered avant-garde, after all. Halley attacks the theme with his usual vigor, testing but not really crossing over the atonal line (we’re treated to a lot of his inside/outside moves on this record). He then gives way for Reed, who shows the same kind of gusto on his bass highlight.

Carson Halley again sets the character of a song with his Latin-heavy percussion on Mongo Santamaria’s “Chano Pozo,” while the elder Halley toys with the melody at an unhurried pace. For Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” Halley employs a wide vibrato, taking the sax back to its Lester Young days, and the gang takes a raucous approach in launching Charles Mingus’ “Pussy Cat Dues,” but soon settle into some soul-soaked blues.

The non-jazz numbers are just as entertaining if not more so, because you’ve probably never heard these songs covered in this way. Rodgers’ “High Powered Mama” shows the natural link between blues and jazz, and the easygoing demeanor the three bring to it accentuates that link, though Halley at one point charges through the changes like Sonny Rollins. The blues standard “Motherless Children” is given a festive, second-line treatment by Carson. The down home Hank Williams’ hit “Someday You’ll Call My Name” is followed by the diametrically opposed free jazz workout “Law Years,” another Ornette tune, underlining the range of Halley’s sources for inspiration.

You may not necessarily learn a whole lot more about the originators for the songs featured in The Literature, but you’re bound to understand Rich Halley a little better. His sweet and spicy artistry uses a lot of quality ingredients.


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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