The Rich Halley Quartet’s newest release comes almost exactly a year after their last album, Requiem For a Pit Viper, a work which captured the free wheeling yet focused approach of this Quartet. Back From Beyond is not only a more cohesive effort from the band in terms of their personal sound, but also demonstrates the overall musicality of each player within a constantly varying musical atmosphere.
Back From Beyond is, compositionally, a far more diversified album. Though the obvious influence of free jazz pioneers such as Ornette Coleman and the Sun Ra Arkestra remains present, bits of bebop and funk grooves find their way into the textures of many tunes. Spuds, an original composition which opens the album, begins as an up-tempo bebop tune, but quickly shifts into a loose free improvisation involving each musician to varying degrees throughout the tune. At times, Halley’s lines maintain a strong swing feel, and seem to outline an obvious chord structure, showcasing his study of the more conventional saxophonists within the jazz idiom. Halley is adept at controlling the more extended techniques of the saxophone used for free improvisation, such as over-blowing and firing off late Coltrane-esque flurries of notes. Both the avant-garde and straight ahead jazz find their way into his lexicon. Halley’s tone is reminiscent of Joe Henderson, and possesses a natural growl which seems to cut through the whirlwind of sound being generated by the band. Other moments during this tune feel completely removed from any sort of structure whatsoever, especially during bassist Clyde Reed’s extended solo. This type of musical freedom does not overextend itself into the realm of abrasive free jazz, but rather remains relevant without becoming redundant.
The increasingly sympathetic style of the band, even during times of intense buildup, coupled with a more sensitive dynamic approach makes this record much stronger than Requiem For a Pit Viper. This release lends itself more readily to repeat listens, especially amongst a jazz audience. This is not to say that the musical quality has been decreased in favor of a more commercial aesthetic. Rather, the Quartet has simply evolved and crafted their concept into a much stronger offering.
Rich Halley - Back From Beyond (Pine Eagle Records 2012)
Rich Halley - tenor sax, wood flute, percussion, Michael Vlatkovich - trombone, percussion, squeak toys, Carson Halley - drums, percussion, Clyde Reed - bass
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The JD Allen Trio’s 4th album is arguably their best both in terms of compositional strength and overall performance. The group released their last album, Victory!, almost exactly a year ago, but their development is easily noticeable within minutes of listening to this release.
The Trio is known for blending free improvisations with straight ahead swinging originals in order to weave a uniquely interesting listening experience. Their records, as they have explained, are meant to be listened to as a complete work rather than track to track. This attention to detail is not often seen in jazz, but certainly adds a new level of cohesion to the compositions. Certain tracks, such as “Cathedral”, an improvisation set to a constant drone provided by bassist Gregg August, serve as stepping stone, creating a seamless flow while maintaing an intriguing ambiguity between tracks.
As far as sound of sound, each player seems to have developed both personally and in terms of their overall contribution to the trio. Allen’s tone is edgier than on past releases, and his lines contain a natural grit that matches his aggressive style when playing up-tempo. On slower pieces, Allen leaves space between his lines which is filled in by the melodically assertive drumming of Rudy Royston. Royston stands out on the track “Paseillo”, an original by Allen, and perhaps the most noteworthy performance on the recording. Bassist Gregg August stands out as the keystone of the band, providing the stability needed for the adventurous improvisations and free interplay present throughout the album.
The success of this trio can be attributed to their ability to keep listeners interested by mixing the familiar with the avant-garde. Most of their tunes never make it past 3 or 4 minutes, but everything one needs to hear is contained in that short amount of time.
JD Allen Trio - The Matador and the Bull (Savant 2012)
JD Allen (saxophone) Rudy Royston (drums), Gregg August (bass)
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Miguel Zenon’s newest release combines modern interpretations of Puerto Rican folk sons with lush orchestrations conducted by Guillermo Klein. The selections on this record are probably unfamiliar to most jazz listeners, but they are certainly beautiful songs which are full of emotion and subtle complexity. The balance between simple melodies and advanced rhythmic ideas creates a unique sound. Zenon plays each melody with full intensity, almost in the style of a passionate vocalist rather than a saxophonist. Additionally, Zenon’s solos on the album are nothing less than incendiary. Despite the large ensemble and depth of each tune, Zenon showcases his playing throughout the recording. Zenon is clearly the feature of the record. His own skills are showcased perfectly, and one can gain an appreciation for his individual sound from this release.
The orchestrating reminds me of Ravel at times. The instrumentation relies heavily on wind instruments (actually, they are the only instruments added outsid of the standard jazz rhythm section). Zenon utilizes a wide tonal palette, utilizing oboe, flute, French and English horns, bassoon and clarinet. The instruments provide lush textures much in the style of an Impressionistic composer. The musicians are able to adapt to the complex rhythmic aspects of the music, often utilizing poly-rhythms or call and response style phrases with the band. Overall, the ensemble sounds like a cohesive unit and not like a group of musicians who were called in to do a session. The band’s interactions are captured throughout the recording.
This album comes highly recommended. 5 stars, certainly one of the best releases of the year.
Miguel Zenon - “Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook” (2011 Marsalis Music)
Miguel Zenon (alto sax, arrangements)
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JD Allen’s third album with his working trio of Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums is probably his most talked about to date. This album, like its predecessor, demonstrates that Allen prefers to deliver strong, concise performances rather than long explorations…at least on his recordings. Each tune begins, quickly showcases its potential, and leaves you wanting to listen again in order to figure out why you liked it so much the first time. The simplicity is probably why most critics and musicians enjoy this album. There is a wide range of styles, and everything from hard swinging post bop to Paul Motian-esque rubato passages can be found on this album. The consistent factor is the brevity of the tracks and the trios ability to create a sustained energy very quickly. The experience of this band is obvious on the recording. It is easy to hear that this is a working trio, and not a one off recording date. At times, one may be reminded of the album “Motion”, a date which included Lee Konitz, Elvin Jones, and Sonny Dallas. However, the overall style is decisively modern. Allen’s study of the masters who came before him is apparent, but he has chosen to move forward rather than try to re-create the past. As you may have seen, this album is already popping up on top 10 lists for 2011 all over the internet.
JD Allen Trio - “Victory!” (2011 Sunnyside) JD Allen (tenor sax), Gregg August (bass), Rudy Royston (drums)
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Rich Halley’s new album is an exploration of the free jazz genre. Halley’s compositions contain structures and melodies, but the loose rhythmic flow of the band, combined with the aggressive sonic style of Halley, make this album more easily comparable to the type of jazz Ornette Coleman pioneered in the 1960’s. There isn’t a lot of straight ahead swinging on this record. The rhythmic approach seems closer to something which listeners might expect from Paul Motian’s bands. The musicians move along at their own pace, and the music continues to have a natural ebb and flow. As a saxophonist, Halley’s strong points are his tone and the ability to use extended techniques on the saxophone in a precise manner. His sound is rich and full, somewhat reminiscent of Joe Henderson. However, Halley makes frequent use of overblowing and other typical free jazz techniques, which instantly distinguishes him from the usual bebop saxophonists. Halley uses these sounds to his advantage, and never seems to go overboard in his improvisations. Despite the fact that this is certainly a very avant-garde album, it is still accessible to jazz listeners overall. I would compare Halley’s direction with that of Brooklyn based saxophonist Bill McHenry. The music is free, but will never test the listener’s patience. You don’t have to be a musician to enjoy this music.
Rich Halley Quartet - Requiem for a Pit Viper - Pine Eagle Records (2011)
Rich Halley (tenor sax), Michael Vlatkovich (trombone), Clyde Reed (bass), Carson Halley (drums)
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Joe Lovano’s latest release, his 22nd album, showcases one of his original influences from childhood, Charlie “Bird” Parker. Parker was obviously known as a bebop pioneer, and has been an influence to just about every jazz musician, regardless of their chosen instrument, since his time. On this record, Lovano attempts to place some of Parker’s most well known compositions in a new setting. Each tune is given a different arrangement than the original recordings done by Bird’s groups in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Many jazz fans have been hearing these tunes for decades, and the decision to do an album of nothing but Charlie Parker compositions may seem like a mistake to some. However, Lovano’s arrangements add a renewed interest to these tunes. This remains true even despite the fact that each tune on this record is among the most popular of Parker’s compositions. Lovano has even taken fragments of extrapolated melodies to create new compositions, as on the track “Birdyard”. Listeners are sure not to grow tired of the typical head-solo-head form of most bebop jazz. The sidemen on this recording provide a modern rhythm section feel, which also helps place the music in a more unique territory. It is refreshing not to hear a young rhythm section attempt to sound like a 1950’s house band. Overall, this record is a refreshing take on well known bebop standards placed in a modern context. In our current era of change in jazz, an era which has given rise to criticism from certain established musicians, it is interesting to note that at least one legend in the jazz world seems to approve the new direction of the music.
Joe Lovano/Us Five - Bird Songs (Blue Note Records 2011)
Joe Lovano (tenor sax), James Weidman (piano), Esperanza Spalding (bass), Otis Brown III (drums), Francisco Mela (also drums)