Friday, May 24, 2013

Music from Within and Without For 'Bones and Saxophones

The first sounds one hears on "One From None", the new recording from the Michael Bates/Samuel Blaser Quintet (released on Fresh Sounds New Talent) is the "call to playing" from saxophonist Michael Blake.  The title track that opens the poem is built upon the "deep" rhythmic work of drummer Jeff Davis (his "laid-back" drive on this track is enchanting) and bassist Bates "big" tone and melodic lines.  The atmospheric sounds played on Fender Rhodes by Russ Lossing (he also plays "acoustic" piano on several tracks) link this group's sound to the late 1960s and the pioneering work of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.  When he plas in the lower register, co-leader Blaser's trombone lines blend easily with the tenor saxophone yet he also produces "deep" low notes that thicken the bottom.

Bates contributes 5 of the 8 pieces on the disk.  Besides the title track (described above), he also composed the fast-paced "Van Gogh", the mysterious and (mostly) rubato "Dogfish", the delightfully funky "Balance" (Davis sends sparks through this track) and the handsome, emotionally rich "Uncertain Salvo" (featuring a splendid solo from the trombonist.)  Blaser's "Recurring Dream" is oh-so-quiet with an intense piano journey above the delightful brush work from Davis.  The blend of saxophone and trombone displays a lyrical side that carries over to Blaser's fine solo.  He also composed "Rising Moon" (with its ever-shifting tempos and a bright solo from Blake) and the "slow drag" "It Began To Get Dark" that closes the program.  The meshing of acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes adds different colors to the music, accompanying the different soloists (Bates takes a strongly melodic solo while Blake plays off the rippling keyboard lines. When Blaser enters quietly, the tempo picks up and he, along with Lossing, help to raise the "temperature" of the music.

The music on "One From None" rarely gets loud but it surely is an intense experience.  Solos move and in and out of the foreground, the drums rise and fall as tempos shift and both keyboards are featured as lead and background sounds. The bass is most often the "constant" in this music yet he also offers counterpoint. The Michael Bates/Samuel Blaser Quintet create music that pulls and pushes at the listener, keeping one a bit off-balance but ultimately satisfied by the challenge.  For more information, go to where you can also listen to the CD.

Walking/hiking through the mountains offers one a real opportunity to review, to think, to plan and to escape.  For some, music does that as well.  "Crossing the Passes" (Pine Eagles Records), the new CD by the Rich Halley 4, features music inspired by a backpacking expedition that the saxophonist/composer took in the summer of 2012 across the Wallowa Mountains of Northeast Oregon. Joining him on the trek was his son Carson (the drummer in the RH4) and nephew Tim Binford.  The photos that adorn the album were taken by Carson and makes one wish this came as a gatefold vinyl recording.

The music, performed by the senior Halley (tenor saxophone), his son the drummer, Michael Vlatkovch (trombone, percussion) and Clyde Reed (bass), has song titles inspired by the expedition. Ranging from the funky heat of "Traversing The Maze" to the quiet introspection of the title track to the fiery majesty of "Basin and Range", this is honest music.  No one here is concerned with making an overblown personal statement;  no, these 11 tracks document conversations built off of strong melodic lines and robust solos.  Listen to the interactions of the saxophone and trombone and how the lines weave in and around each other.  The rock-solid support of Reed is impressive but, even better, is his percussive playing on the opening track, "The Only Constant." His arco introduction to "Smooth Curve of the Bow" is majestic - when the piece moves into its funky rhythm, he continues his hardy bowing.  Carson Halley is the heartbeat of this program.  His "dancing clockwork" drumming on "Looking West from West" is quite infectious while the quietly pounding rhythms (and whooshing cymbals) on "Journey Across The Land" enhance the dramatic quality of the music.

As for Halley and Vlatkovich, the leader impresses with his bluesy stance as well as his articulate phrases.  The trombonist has a bit of swagger as well yet he can just as articulate. His forthright lines on
"The Spring Rains" as well as his constant background riffs on "Acute Angles" holds one attention. You'll enjoy how both players can swing without howling or falling back on cliches.

"Crossing The Passes" makes no claim to being anything other than a true representation of how the Rich Halley 4 live and play music.  The journey over the mountains can be heard in the force of the drumming, in the thrumming of the bass lines, in the several melodic phrases that resemble the soaring of large birds or the scattering of rocks dislodged by the hikers.  Use your imagination and get lost in the music.  For more information, go to

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