Rich Halley Quartet: Fire Within

Halley's quartet plays ruggedly authentic free jazz, brimming with passion and creativity but never quite spinning out of control


“The Tradition…Is To Extend…The Tradition” reads the strap-line on Halley’s website, and this still criminally underrated Oregon-based saxophonist has been doing precisely that for over four decades now. With one foot in the classic Byas and Hawkins schools, Halley follows the threads to Coltrane, Rollins, Ayler, and beyond. His relatively modest 25-album discography includes several hidden gems in Vinny Golia’s Nine Winds catalogue, pride of place perhaps going to his many collaborations with the legendary Bobby Bradford.

Fire Within is the third release by his star-studded quartet with Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker, following in the contrails of Terra Incognita (2019) and The Shape Of Things (2020). Together the quartet play the type of ruggedly authentic free jazz that is impossible to fake, brimming with passion and creativity while never quite spinning out of control.

Halley’s unaccompanied intro to the title track finds him riffing à la Rollins before Shipp, Bisio and Baker enter with promethean force to signal lift-off. Bisio’s Garrisonesque intro to Inferred leads the quartet into a more contemplative space that they explore for around six minutes until Baker picks up his sticks, Shipp’s thoughtful solo eventually bringing the music back to earth. Angular Logic develops from another of Halley’s boppish riffs, and Shipp’s ingenious counterpoint provides some of the most breathtaking passages of the set.

Elsewhere Bisio’s bowed intro sets the tone on the contemplative Through Still Air, and Halley’s searching solo simply exudes latent power. The collective energies are rather less concealed on Following The Stream, an intelligently nuanced workout that moves from bluesy modal jazz into ever more torrid waters, and as the final playful coda digs into Davis’s Milestones theme, you can almost hear the tradition living and breathing as they play.

Fire Within; Inferred; Angular Logic; Through Still Air; Following The Stream (54.31)
Halley (ts) with Matthew Shipp (p); Michael Bisio (b); Newman Taylor Baker (d). Brooklyn, 12 July 2023.
Pine Eagle Records 015