Rich Halley Performs Jazz “Literature”


THE LITERATURE / DAVIS: Little Willie Leaps. MONK: Misterioso. Brilliant Corners. SANTAMARIA: Chano Pozo. COLEMAN: Broad Way Blues. Law Years. RODGERS: High Powered Mama. ELLINGTON-MILLS: Mood Indigo. A.P. CARTER: Motherless Children. MINGUS: Pussy Cat Dues. RA: Kingdom of Not. BRANCH-HILL: Someday You’ll Call My Name / Rich Halley, t-sax/clapping; Clyde Reed, bs; Carson Halley, dm/clapping / Pine Eagle 011

In this new release, tenor saxist Rich Halley and his trio pay tribute to some of his seminal influences, what he refers to as the “literature” of jazz. Most of the pieces I knew, but was unfamiliar with Mongo Santamaria’s Chano Pozo, the two Ornette Coleman pieces chosen here and Sun Ra’s Kingdom of Not. Interestingly, the album also includes three early country tunes, Jimmie Rodgers’ High Powered Mama, the Carter Family’s Motherless Children and Someday You’ll Call My Name.

Yet in paying tribute to these great and not-so-great (Sun Ra) jazz figures, Halley does not give us predictable rehashes of this material. Rather, this is very modern, “outside” playing, highly creative and taking the music into new realms. Even Monk’s Misterioso sounds entirely new and different here; Halley evidently feels that this older material is only to be used as a point of departure, not to fully reference the older music in such a way that it sounds predictable.

The result is an album that cooks from start to finish, keeps the listener involved, and gives us playing in all of the tracks that is closer to early Pharoah Sanders than to Arthur Blythe, for instance. Nor is Halley the only creative mind in this trio: bassist Clyde Reed’s solos, particularly in Misterioso, are also edgy and creative, taking the music into new realms that the composers (in this case Monk) might never have imagined themselves.

Chano Pozo, though clearly featuring Latin-styled drums, comes across more like a successor to Sonny Rollins’ St. Thomas than like anything the legendary Cuban drummer played with the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra. Carson Halley continually varies and subdivides his beat in such a way that it sounds like a cross between Cuban and calypso music. Interestingly, Coleman’s Broad Way Blues is played with a combination of a calypso and country blues sort of beat, taken into realms beyond one’s imagination. This is great and highly imaginative playing, and Reed also gets into the act on this one.

Rodgers’ High Powered Mama tries to behave itself and stick, more or less, to the country blues sort of beat and style of its composer, but Halley thinks too much outside the box to allow it to stay entirely in that sort of feel. He also sticks pretty close to the original tune and tempo of Ellington’s Mood Indigo, except for the different stresses on the beats. Brilliant Corners bears a closer resemblance to the original than Misterioso did, though Halley takes the middle theme, and the development of the theme, at much faster tempi. The Carter Family’s Motherless Children is made to sound almost like a hoedown rather than like a sad song, with lots of percussive fun from Carson Halley and Reed’s bass. I’m not sure that Charles Mingus would recognize his Pussy Cat Dues from the frantic, wild introductory section, though it eventually does come back down to earth and follows the tune pretty well. Kingdom of Not, composed by Sun Ra (real name: Herman Sonny Blount, a swing pianist who played in Fletcher Henderson’s last band before he decided he came from outer space), sounds as much if not more like a country hoedown piece as the “real” country tunes on this album, particularly Someday You’ll Call My Name, into which Halley throws a few tenor sax squeals.

Halley wraps up this odd and challenging set with Ornette Coleman’s Law Years, played in an appropriately outside style all the way, a wild and crazy performance with Carson bashing away on the drums. Hey, y’all, thanks for comin’ and drive home safely, y’hear?

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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