If you ask a jazz musician what the music is about, they'll typically respond that one just needs to listen and draw their own conclusions. That can leave some listeners in the dust without a clue of what to listen for. It gets harder when the music is free jazz.
In the liner notes of his latest CD, Portland-based Rich Halley writes that "the musical communication in this trio allows the compositions to develop intuitively and takes the music to a new and different place." That may help, but most people needs more clues. Halley does provide a sizable clue by entitling his latest CD, "Coyotes in the City." That is a provocative title (and image). It helps to know that Halley was educated as a field biologist and has taken many trips into wilderness regions around the world. He does not bifurcate his musical interests with his outdoor pursuits. Indeed, they seem very much integrated.
So, coyotes in the city? The music seems to convey a sense of eeriness, a kind of chaos, lurking behind a facade of order: a thriving wildness in a transformed urban landscape. Free jazz can have that same sensibility. There is structure, but around it there is chaos peeking around the corner or scurrying up a wall.
The rhythm section performed by Clyde Reed and Dave Storrs on "Coyotes in the City" is pitched deep in the blues. They provide a sustained order. Halley's dark and turbulent horns flow over the established rhythm. The effect is something eerie and primordial, but also something vaguely familiar and occasionally reassuring. An example of this is the title track in which Halley employs a wood flute that sounds like an ancient cry emanating from the night woods, but those woods could just be pine trees in a neighborhood park in suburban Portland. Another is "Crows" which has a Hitchcockian feel of birds on a telephone wire shuffling nervously above us. They're just crows, but there is something dark and uncertain about them.
"Coyotes in the City" is compelling, mysterious, and a bit unnerving.