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Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival by Rich Halley Quartet, featuring Bobby Bradford

As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, Rich Halley has flourished into one of the world's very finest jazz tenor saxophonists. Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival is Halley's 11th as a leader, and his second with former Ornette sideman Bobby Bradford. The ace cornetist is a logical choice as a front-line partner – his cool, concise playing contrasts sharply with Halley's heated, note-intensive offerings. And though Halley's sound and approach to the horn clearly comes from the John Coltrane lineage, Halley's compositional ideas seem to refer more to the Ornette Coleman free-bop sphere. His cavernous tenor sound and impassioned soloing long ago stepped outside of these, and numerous other, primal influences and can only be compared – as a point of reference – to that of players such as Don Byas, David S. Ware, David Murray, Coleman Hawkins, and George Adams. For this live disc that features both new and old compositions, longtime bassist Clyde Reed offers bedrock-strong, highly swinging bass, while Halley's son Carson makes his first recorded appearance in the drum chair. Though the live sound is a bit flat and lacking in warmth, the quartet's innate musical chemistry and sterling individual performances are well worth the price of admission.

Halley's groups have always been about interplay, and this quartet is no exception – I love the fact that both horn players improvise interjections and overlap lines during each others' solos. An unusual element on this disc is the extra percussion – cowbells, shakers, and whatnot – added quite judiciously by Bradford and Halley throughout each piece. They never overdo it, and add contrast when it's needed.

The title track off Halley's first quartet recording with Bradford, 'The Blue Rims,' starts the CD off with the dark sort of swagger that we've come to expect from Halley's small groups. Dynamic, quirky and resourceful as ever, Bradford gets the first solo over some breakneck swing set up by Halley fils and Reed before the bassist breaks out for a typically eloquent unaccompanied solo. Halley chips in with a great yawping solo that starts rubato and ascends slowly as the rhythm picks up to the piece's opening swagger. By contrast the backbeat-driven funk of 'Streets Below' represents quite a departure for this group. Halley's no stranger to this sort of thing, having dealt with all sorts of rhythms in his large group recordings from the early-to mid-1980s. I really enjoyed the clipped, stop-start melody, and Bradford digs real deep to unreel yet another fine solo. An ongoing Bradford-Halley dialogue is the centerpiece of 'The River's Edge Is Ice,' a spacious tune that which starts at a loping tempo which accelerates in stages as the piece progresses. It's a bit like a mellow hike through unfamiliar terrain that ends up as a run! The centerpiece of the CD is 'Grey Stones / Shards of Sky,' a 15+ minute tour de force that starts off with an unusual cut-time, pogo sort of rhythms that gradually deteriorates into a brawny sort of swing during Halley's first solo – perhaps his most impressive and wide-ranging of the entire disc. Bradford solos over a curious march cadence that reminds me of something that Ed Blackwell might've done. The quartet's newest member, Carson Halley handles all of these changes quite adeptly while connecting with each soloist in a readily palpable way.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Rich Halley Quartet, featuring Bobby Bradford
  • CD Title: Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2010
  • Record Label: Pine Eagle Records
  • Rating: Three Stars
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