Beware the boomslang! This highly-venomous East African snake infamously killed a handler in 1957. Oregon tenor saxophonist/composer/producer Rich Halley never forgot that story. It slithered its way into his memory for years to the point where his 25th album, by Halley-Clucas-Reed-Halley, is, indeed, entitled Boomslang (Pine Eagle Records). As with most of his accessible avant-garde projects, Halley’s sax rambles, rumbles, honks and moans like a living breathing entity unto itself while his carefully chosen bandmates keep up and even add their own curli-cues of rampant individualism. Warning: no chords were used in the making of this album. His son, Carson Halley, is one helluva drummer, able to anticipate his dad’s every move seconds before it happens. Los Angeles cornetist Dan Clucas shares the front line while Canadian bassist Clyde Reed does so much more than just hold down the bottom. With four Halley compositions and five spontaneous improvisations, this Boomslang won’t hurt you, but it will confound and entertain you no end.
Carn Davidson 9’s The History Of Us (Three Pines Records) is the highly personal third album of this supremely creative no-chord nonet (seven horns with bass and drums) led by Tara Davidson (alto and soprano sax, clarinet, flute, piccolo) and William Carn (trombone and bass trombone). Now in its 12th year, the unique chamber jazz of these Canadians is highlighted by Carn’s “Finding Home Suite,” based on his family’s trek from Hong Kong to Costa Rica to Canada. Utilizing elements of traditional Chinese folkloric melodies to Buddhist chants, Carn has created a swirling adventurous opus that is as captivating as it is hypnotic. Davidson’s three-track “Suite 1985” is no less personal and has elements of Scottish folk. The solos are sublime, the arrangements complex and stimulating.
Like its unreadable disjointed cover, Mirror Canon Break A Vase (Intakt Records, Switzerland), by the eminently likeable and listenable British keyboardist-composer-producer-visionary Alexander Hawkins, takes some getting used to but after being unfathomable, it becomes indispensable. It’s almost as if you have to pass an initiation test to digest its delights. But once it goes down, it goes down easy. Hawkins has taken his regular piano-bass-drums trio and augmented it with Nigerian “talking drum,” electric guitar, sax, flute and all sorts of percussive toys that give it an air of trebly attention-to-detail. The result is delicious.
The fourth album of Canadian saxophonist-composer-flutist-clarinetist-arranger Benjamin Deschamps adds a new layer of wonderful to his previous work with the super-talented trumpeter Rachel Therrien. Leading his own band expands his palette to the point where he’s equally comfortable in trio, quartet, quintet or sextet settings. One can detect his unerring love for classical within these jazz grooves. The eight tracks expand upon his 2014 What Do We Know debut, its 2017 Demi-Nuit follow-up and his 2018 No Codes (all of which are worth seeking out). His new …Reality is more electric, in-your-face, influenced by fusion and spectacularly entertaining. Electric guitarist Nicolas Ferron joins his quintet to add oomph.
We may not have John Coltrane around anymore but because of cats like the uber-talented Dave Wilson, ‘Trane’s essence, still, 55 years after his death, remains a spectral presence hovering over certain kinds of jazz. Stretching Supreme, the self-produced, self-released seventh CD by The Dave Wilson Quartet, is so much more than just a tribute to the master. “A Love Supreme,” arguably ‘Trane’s greatest work, leads off this gem of a project as a three-track suite. Wilson, on tenor and soprano, blows his sax like a man possessed…and he is. He has somehow excavated the essence of the originator into his own soul and with piano/bass/drums backing him up, flies into the stratosphere like no one in years.
Two more ‘Trane rides end it all (“Dear Lord” and “Naima”) but not before he does one of his own (the 11:22 “On The Prairie”) and takes Henry Mancini’s 1962 “Days Of Wine And Roses” on a 13:33 epic adventure. Wilson has meandered across the spectrum of music in the past, making pitstops for New Orleans traditionalism, folkloric German beer-raising even rocketing into outer space with his avant-garde free-jazz, but this, right here, is his sweet spot.