Like just about all "live" CDs, "Dialogue" makes the listener wish he or she had been in the audience on the nights this music was created. Human Spirit, indeed! Thanks again, Jason Parker, for your excellent recommendation (check out his work by clicking on his name in the opening sentence - his 2011 recording of the music of the late Nick Drake deserves a space in your collection.) For more about Human Spirit, go to thomasmarriott.net/projects/human-spirit/.
Looking at the lineup, one realizes this music has a fighting chance of being quite good. And, it certainly is. Erhardt wrote and arranged all the pieces, creating pieces that seem to move outward from the opening notes. Davis truly can drive a band, works well with Shipp's percussion arsenal and still leaves plenty of sonic space for Ms. Oh's fundamentally strong bass work. Listen to them firing on all cylinders as the band flies through "Ten Years", rising out over Noelle's hard-edged guitar work. And, the rhythm section can also be subtle - on "Not Like Before", Shipp's insistent triangle alongside Davis's strong brushwork leads the piece in. Erhardt's forceful yet musical clarinet solo is impressive giving way to the rich flugelhorn spot (Paul, who is a member of vocalist Nicky Schrire's fine band, shines in his chordal support.) Noelle enters over a modified reggae beat, his intense lines pushing against the softer piano chords. "Powwow Now", based on a melody from a Navajo corn-grinding songs, commences with insistently repeated piano chord behind Ms. Oh's melodic solo. The blend of oboe, soprano sax, tenor, piano and guitar creates a swirling melody out of which the fine solos arise. After a rubato opening with tenor and trumpet dancing around each other over snappy percussion, the title track features a Latin rhythm with a melody for trumpet, tenor and Noelle's rippling guitar. The arrangement behind the melody and solos offers pleasing counterpoint. Listen to how the Paul's lines complement the active bass lines as well as the percussionist's exciting stew.
In his liner notes, Eric Erhardt gives credit fellow saxophonists Dave Liebman, Felipe Salles and Dan Willis for helping to make these compositions and arrangements "stronger." Their input certainly pushed Erhardt in the right direction because this music is intelligent, exciting and richly melodic. For more information, go to ericerhardtmusic.com.
3 of the 10 tracks are credited to the entire group but none feel scattered or overlong. In fact, "Reorbiting - for Sun Ra" a strong melodic thrust from the opening dialogue featuring Vlatkovich and Reed. When the trombonist falls into a short percussive phrase, the Halleys both join and there is some fine interplay. Another group piece, "Continental Drift", starts off quite "free" and it's the forceful melodic presence of Reed that pushes the others to a more melodic (while still forceful) approach.
Michael Vlatkovich is a fine partner for Rich Halley in that he matches the power of the tenor (his funky solo on "Broken Ground" brings to mind Fred Wesley); the trombonist can bring the fire when needed but he can also can go "gut-bucket" or highly melodic when called upon. The bluesy ballad "Opacity" is a fine example of how Vlatkovich fits his sound and personality into a piece without overwhelming it. The manner in which the saxophonist and he move in and around each other speaks to their long-time friendship as well as the numerous gigs they have worked together.
The title and Michael Coyle's liner notes make reference to the fact that the music on "Back From Beyond" is a "return to form" (in this instance, to songs that have theme-solo-theme" format) but this is not "retro" music. Listeners familiar with Rich Halley's music will not be surprised by either the power of this band or the leader's melodic approach. He's been his "own man" for 3 decades, creating a repertoire that challenges and moves the engaged listener. Kudos also go to the splendid work of the rhythm section; they not only propel this music but also creatively interact with the front line. For more information, go to www.richhalley.com.