Boomslang from Portland-based saxophonist Rich Halley has provided a soundtrack of sorts to this point in the holiday, where the pressure and the last minute planning and the things that don’t quite work out the way you want and you just want to escape from the avalanche of treacle. Halley, who joins cornetist Dan Clucas, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley, has concocted this abrupt, exciting music to cut through the unctuousness of the season.
It’s a lean and athletic sound this quartet makes, heavy on the brass, tight and spare to the point of being energizing. I know I’ve been trying to fill in the holidays with plenty of appropriate music, and perhaps these original compositions and bad-ass improvisations of Boomslang will be welcome among your jazz-loving friends as you get together for some hot toddies or whatever else the world is drinking these days. All I know is it’s time for you folks over there in the corner to leave if you’re not into real honest jazz, because I have some deep and serious listening to do right here.
I’ve known Rich Halley for a bit–I reviewed his last album, The Shape of Things, in time for Christmas last year. That album skirted the razor-sharp edge of free jazz, turning improvisation into carefully managed chaos, but Boomslang is far more melodic. There are frantic bursts of energy, sure, but this time Rich Halley and his crew allow plenty of space to creep in between the ideas, so much so that themes of minimalism emerge. It’s nowhere near as simple, however, as it seems.
Halley and Clucas, in particular, have the sort of guttural and almost primitive conversations that make you feel like they’re talking in code, but when you step up you’ll hear those adventurous ideas bounce to and fro. And for an album that feels, on the surface, as if it’s all about the horns, that beautiful rhythm section comes forward and announces its graceful influences on every note that’s blasted. That’s why Boomslang is the best kind of holiday gift, something to be enjoyed among those who love jazz with lots of imagination and just a touch of surliness.