Since the fifties, many a jazz musician have made records of their live gigs at festivals. Some of the largest and most enduring ones have been a favorite location for cutting a record: Newport, Montreaux, Monterrey, North Sea and so on. And then there's the Penofin Jazz Festival in Potter Valley, California. Nestled in a dell surrounded by rugged, mountainous terrain about 120 miles north of San Francisco, the live performances are held in a large barn. This is the spot where Portland, Oregon tenor saxophonist Rich Halley rendezvous 'd with his quartet a couple of years ago and cooked with his crew for a memorable gig out in the middle of blissful nowhere.
At the front page of Halley's website, you'll find a motto the tradition is to extend the tradition," and it's one he puts into action with his music. It first starts with the band he led on a hot day in May, 2008. Bobby Bradford is something of a legend in avant-garde circles as a cornetist. He was Don Cherry's replacement in Ornette Coleman's band back in 1961 and later appeared on Coleman's comeback Science Fiction record ten years later. Bradford might be better known for his extensive work with free jazz clarinetist John Carter.He's also recorded with David Murray and Vinny Golia. Rounding out this quartet are Clyde Reed on bass and Carson Hailey on drums.
It's not hard to see what made Bradford such an attraction foil to guys like Ornette, Carter or Murray: he's got the chops to stabilize a song while the leader get to do his thing. In the case of Halley, he's got a full bodied tone, a little on the reedy side, and draws heavily on the twin primal properties of blues and avant-garde. What I like about is approach is that it's very expressive and passionate, but in a controlled way that recalls tradition without feeling constrained by it. Thus, his motto.
There's only four tunes on this set, all Halley originals. It's still enough to reveal what a diversely inspired artist he really is, mainly because the songs place very few parameters so to give the players a lot of space to maneuver and create. The Blue Rims" moves through a myriad of tempos, but remains an blues-based conception that suggests Ornette more times that it doesn't. Street Below" is a cool marriage of esoteric shapes with a funky rhythm. Grey Stones/Shards Of Sky" finds Halley and Bradford blowing hot over terrain as rough as what they probably had to travel to to get to the event. The set closes with The River's Edge Is Ice," which in the beginning appears to be the first ballad or the record, that is, until it picks up and a middle section develops. At one point, a mutated second line beat emerges, which goes to show that just about anything can happen in a Rich Halley song.
Live At The Penofin Jazz Festival is proof that good jazz can happen anywhere. And why not? Jazz isn't dependent so much on a place, but a state of mind. Rich Halley, Bobby Bradford and the rest of the Rich Halley Quartet were in the right state of mind to put in a fine performance in that barn nestled in the rugged Northern California country one spring day a couple of years ago.
Live At The Penofin Jazz Festival is available through Pine Eagle Records. Visit Halley's website here.
Purchase: Rich Halley QuartetLive At The Penofin Jazz Festival