Saxophonist Rich Halley has always had a thick, brassy tone and a bold and daring improvisational approach. Over the years a certain contemplative wisdom has permeated his music enhancing its intellectual edge without tempering its fiery zeal. The result, as demonstrated on Crossing The Passes is a sublime balance of the cerebral and visceral.
On "Traversing The Maze" for instance, Halley's raw and passionate tenor eloquently creates harmonically intricate ad-lib sonic structures. The dark and mystical piece also features rocking bass and drum vamps that rumble and roll as an undercurrent to Halley's Trombonist Michael Vlatkovich's extemporizations. Vlatkovich's angular yet swinging horn growls its way into a stimulating and theatrical four-way conversation.
A sense of the dramatic, albeit introspective and reserved, characterizes the album forming one of its core themes. It is best exemplified on "Journey Across The Land," and inside/outside composition with a well-orchestrated group improvisation that imbues unbridled flights of fancy with stylistic quotes from older genres. Bassist Clyde Reed's wistful con arco drone and Halley and Vlatkovich's somber refrains create the cinematic ambience, particularly as they contrast with drummer Carson Halley's bright cymbal crashes. The complex and abstract dialogue between tenor and trombone is laced with bluesy hints while the rhythm section's laid-back swagger is full of soul.
Another recurrent motif on this intriguing record is a form of musical expressionism that does not unfurl into full-blown atonality. Reed's cello like bowing with baroque shades opens the "Smooth Curve of The Bow." Carson Halley's funk infused and angular beats and thrums introduce an urban groove. His frenzied and thunderous drums occasionally burst forth to the surface in exhilarating polyrhythms. Vlatkovich 's wails and roars and Halley's honking solo bring hard bop sensibilities to the tune. Reed's thrilling exchange with the tenor/trombone duet concludes the track in an electrifying, controlled cacophony.
Crossing The Passes is a superlative disc and a high point in Halley's uniformly splendid career. It is sophisticated and provocative, erudite and brash, melodic and unconstrained. In brief, it is what exquisite art should be and what Halley and his bands always strive to deliver.
Track Listing: The Only Constant; Traversing the Maze; Looking West From West; Smooth Curve of the Bow; The Spring Rains; Duopoly; Crossing the Passes; Basin and Range; Acute Angles; Rain, Wind and Hail; Journey Across the Land.