Rich Halley

Terra Incognita
Pine Eagle Records 012

Evan Parker & Kinetics


Clean Feed CF 525 CD

A hoary Jazz tradition, the idea of linking an out-of-town instrumentalist with a local rhythm section has been an accepted fashion in mainstream clubs since the 1940s. Based on the common knowledge of ballads, standards and Blues, lone wolves like Sonny Stitt specialized in this ad hoc atmosphere, and even recorded with diminishing returns in this fashion. But what if the established rhythm section and the standout soloist are all committed to exploratory Free Music? These CDs demonstrate that with commitment from all, the melded musical program can be bolstered rather than lessened.

On the American side there’s Terra Incognita, which could serve as apt metaphor for this experiment involving Oregon-based tenor saxophonist Rich Halley and the long constituted, New York trio of pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker. Meanwhile in Europe, London tenor saxophonist Evan Parker is involved with four intense improvisations with the Copenhagen trio of pianist Jacob Anderskov, bassist Adam Pultz Melbye and drummer Anders Vestergaard.

Shipp’s association with a clutch of visionary saxophonists including Ivo Perelman, David S. Ware and Parker lessen the odds in a meeting like this, while Baker and Bisio have singly or together worked with everyone from Joe McPhee and Perelman to Billy Bang and Billy Harper. On his own Halley has played with improvisers from east and west including Michael Vlatkovich, Bobby Bradford and Bisio. Overseas members of the Danish trio have played with saxophonists such as Laura Toxvaerd, Chris Speed, Henrik Pultz Melbye, Harri Sjöström and Chris Heenan. As for Parker, there are very few free improvisers on any instrument with whom he hasn’t had some association.

Zesty drum beats introduce Terra Incognita’s “The Opening” with an exposition soon consisting of top-of-range nasal slurs from Halley and Shipp’s swirling syncopation. This intensity characterizes the sequence all the way to the saxophonist’s exiting swelling reed peeps. While the narrative is moored by Baker’s spackled rumbles and Bisio’s calculated pulsations, the saxophonist and pianist explore, examine and extend as many timbres as possible. Keeping a melodic overview, the pianist roans from tremolo to modal to staccato patterns as the saxophonist spits out and lobs multiphonics in every direction. The stage set, the four-part congruence evolves with the familiarity of long-affiliated veterans from then on. Breaking up the program with simpler keyboard clips and moderato reed bites as on the title tune, there’s enough contrasting dynamics in the program that it can be roistering even at its most relaxed and simultaneously pensive and powerful. Never forgetting variations on the Blues, Halley’s knife-sharp solos keep the intensity palpable on a tune such as “Forager”, especially when coupled with Bisio’ sluicing and sliding string set. But as counterpoint the track begins and ends with repeated mid-range reed warbling that is echoed gently by Shipp. In fact, the pianist high frequency comping and chordal exploration settles into smoother territory by the finale.

Developed in fits and starts but climaxing with a profound meld of multiphonics and modulations is the concluding “The Journey”, The CD’s longest track, this voyage develops from Halley’s chalumeau smears, backed by Shipp’s kaleidoscopic phrase augmentation to reed dot-dashes and swirling quarter notes from the piano. More pitch climbing and jagged extended techniques are highlighted and resolved by both front-line players until balanced sophistication in the form of balladic gentleness resolves the see-sawing narrative.

Uncommonly Chiasm begins with “London Part I”, the CD’s longest track, but as an introduction of the dramastis personae rather than a conclusion as on Terra Incognita. That role is taken by “London Part II”, with the two tranches oddly separated by two tracks from Copenhagen. Still the interaction is profound enough and the time sense so suspended that the tracks fit together without fissure. Responding to keyboard stabs and drum rolls and clip-clop on the first track, Parker is in an aggressive Sonny Rollins-like mode, spinning out harsh split tones and vibrated pressure. Soon Anderskov’s keyboard swirls, Melbye’s spicatto pumps and Vestergaard drum top slaps make this into a four-part dialogue rather than a showcase for challenging tongue flutters and expressive snarls. Eventually the accommodated resolution takes the form of low frequency key stops sand keyboard tickles from the pianist and accommodating tones from the saxophonist. Anderskov’s fluid syncopation allows him to play two roles on “Copenhagen Part I” and “Copenhagen Part II”. The first is as a Wynton Kelly-like accompanist, feeding chords to complete phrases to Parker as if the saxophonist was Wes Montgomery or Miles David. But at the same time the ebb and flow of Anderskov’s notes keep the narratives fluid. At one point, while maintaining the keyboard flow, the pianist outputs bell-tolling smacks in order to engage in a to-and-from duo with Vestergaard drum smacks.

Percussive hardness characterizes the final track which brings the quartet back to London. As Parker’s circular breathing ceases to indicate the exposition can’t be expressed any further, resplendent keyboard sweeps, reed snarls and double bass pumps combine for a finale, with a single cymbal ping confirming the unmistakable conclusion.

While the era of soloist gunslinger rounding up an established posse of accompanists to get the job done may be over, these distinctive sessions confirm that ad hoc meetings can still produce high-quality sounds.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Terra: 1. The Opening 2. Forager 3. Centripetal 4.The Elms 5. Terra Incognita 6. The Journey

Personnel: Terra: Rich Halley (tenor saxophone); Matthew Shipp (piano); Michael Bisio (bass) and Newman Taylor Baker (drums)

Track Listing: Chiasm: 1. London Part I 2. Copenhagen Part I 3. Copenhagen Part II 4. London Part II

Personnel: Chiasm: Evan Parker (tenor saxophone); Jacob Anderskov (piano): Adam Pultz Melbye (bass) and Anders Vestergaard (drums)