TERRA INCOGNITA / HALLEY-SHIPP-BISIO-BAKER: Opening. Forager. Centripetal. The Elms. Terra Incognita. The Journey / Rich Halley, t-sax; Matthew Shipp, pno; Michael Bisio, bs; Newman Taylor Baker, dm / Pine Eagle Records 012
Having given a rave review to Rich Halley’s album The Outlier, I was curious to hear this latest release. This one is more free-form improvisation, not as tightly arranged or structured as the music on The Outlier. It’s really out there, like listening to some of the 1960s free jazz musicians, some of whom I really admired (and some of whom I didn’t).
Melody, harmony and rhythm are all somewhat thrown to the winds here. Newman Taylor Baker’s drums roil energetically behind Halley and pianist Matthew Shipp on Openiing, where, as in many of the pieces here, a few licks, perhaps you might even call them gestures, are tossed out and improvised on—or, perhaps more accurately, tossed out and then abandoned as Halley and Shipp attack their instruments with unbridled energy.
The results are somewhat mixed. Some of the phrases played are fascinating, and a few hold together as sequential musical statements. When this happens, all is well and good. My personal issue with some of this music is that when it goes overboard, it does so in a chaotic way. Since I am the kind of listener who prefers structure and balance in music, regardless of whether it’s jazz or classical, I found myself vacillating even within individual numbers on this disc between really appreciating what they were doing and feeling that it was just being played for shock effect.
I liked the second piece, Forager, much better than the first. Here, both the motifs used and their treatment were a little more circumspect. Shipp’s piano solo here reminded me a bit of Tristano and Halley did much less squealing while the rhythm section remained roiling and lacking a defined beat. Michael Bisio had a bass solo on this one, technically secure but musically a bit schizophrenic to my ears. Halley’s a cappella solo following the bass solo was extraordinary, leading Shipp and himself into some very creative improvising. Towards the end, they gradually slow down the tempo to provide a nice finish.
Centripetal opens with Baker’s drums playing a lively, out-of-tempo solo, but when the bass enters he is playing a fast 4, to which Halley comes roaring in with some fast running chromatic figures up and down his horn while Shipp bangs out his own figures on the keyboard. This one, too, becomes rather chaotic as it develops, and Shipp’s solo sounds as if even he doesn’t know where to go with this music. In The Elms, Halley plays a quirky sort of angular figure while Shipp plays soft, downward-moving chromatic chords behind him. This I found very interesting, and Halley develops the music somewhat in the ensuing minute before playing variants on the quirky opening. The duo play cat-and-mouse for some time, with Halley’s intriguing structures coming out as the most cogent while Shipp noodles in the background. Bass and drums play softly and minimally on this track.
The title piece is up next, using an intriguing melodic line consisting of staccato stepwise notes. This then moves into more fluid improvisation with occasional references back to the opening theme. Shipp is more creative here, skipping around the keyboard to both fill in some of Halley playing and complement it. I really enjoyed this piece; it had structure of sorts, at least until Halley went off the deep end around the 4:30 mark. The piece fades out on the bass solo. In the finale, The Journey, Baker opens with surprisingly soft drumming in a simple but irregular pattern; Shipp plays some rootless chords and Halley comes in softly and sparingly, playing brief figures that allude to a melodic line but never quite achieve one. The broken figures continue into the improvisation as well, and because they keep things at a minimal level I really enjoyed the way they shifted things around.
In toto, then, a somewhat mixed bag, but for the most part definitely worth hearing.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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