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Reviewers: Tony Augarde, Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Rich Halley 5

The Outlier

Pine Eagle 009





Recipe for Improvisers

Urban Crunch

Around the Fringes

Green Needles

Du Fu’s Stew

Long Blue Road

Rising from the Plains

The Way Through


The Nuthatches

Rich Halley (tenor sax)

Michael Vlatkovich (trombone)

Vinny Golia (baritone sax, bass clarinet)

Clyde Reed (bass)

Carson Halley (drums)

Rec Jackpot Recording Studio, Portland (OR), November 21-22 2015

The music of Rich Halley integrates improvisation and composition so well and so creatively that the listener often finds it difficult to discern the dividing line between the two. Everything here seems well formed and to have a clear structure, though some of the tracks are group improvisations.

For a few years Halley has predominantly recorded (and presumably worked) in a quartet format, with trombonist Vlatkovich, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley (the leader’s son). So it was a little surprising to find this CD prominently labelled as by the ‘Rich Halley 5’. Adding a further musician to a such a well-knit group obviously poses risks. But it turns out fine - perhaps not surprising given that the addition comes in the form of the Californian multi-instrumentalist and composer Vinny Golia, who has vast experience in a great many diverse musical contexts – from playing free jazz with such as Bobby Bradford and Wadada Leo Smith to working with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Golia comprehensively embeds himself within Halley’s group – he is certainly not the ‘outlier’ of the album’s title (perhaps the title refers to Halley’s being based in Portland, Oregon, a long way away from jazz centres such as New York or Chicago.

Halley’s tenor is muscular and broad in sound, but also agile (influences, though very well absorbed and individualized, include later Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler). With the baritone sax (or bass clarinet) of Golia and the trombone it makes for some predominantly ‘dark’ sounds, although any possible tendency to heaviness is counteracted by the energy and quickness of mind evident in all that the group does. The result is exhilarating, imbued, for all its originality, with a sense of the jazz traditions, with the rhythms of R and B and Swing, for example. Often underlying some of the more ‘outside’ improvisations.

Among the ‘group-improvised’ tracks, one that stands out is ‘Around the Fringes’, which seems to grow organically (and, as it were, inevitably) from the opening played by bassist Reed’s, which is initially picked up and developed by Vlatkovich’s trombone in a repeated motif which is echoed and varied in ‘comments’ on it by Halley, until the entire group effloresces like a robust flower fulfilling the potential of its seed.

In truth, every single track here has its rewards – Halley’s compositions use changes of tempo to great effect (rather as Charles Mingus so often did) and from the bluesy dirge-like opening (with some Monk-like inflections) of the first track, ‘Recipe for Improvisers’, all the way through to the quasi-military rhythms of the last track, ‘The Nuthatches’ (fused as they are with some lavishly sensuous horn playing) there is scarcely a dull moment on this very successful recording.

Glyn Pursglove



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