Rich Halley


"Rich Halley's music occupies the point where populism and freedom come together."
-BIll Meyer, DownBeat

"Creating Structure... demonstrates the almost telepathic bond between these musicians, five albums (and counting) into their collective journey."
-Phil Freeman, The New York City Jazz Record

“Heartland American jazz of the very highest order”
-Brian Morton, Point of Departure

"As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, Rich Halley has flourished into one of the world's very finest jazz tenor saxophonists... His cavernous tenor sound and impassioned soloing long ago stepped outside of these, and numerous other primal influences and can only be compared, as a point of reference, to that of players such as Don Byas, David S. Ware, David Murray, Coleman Hawkins, and George Adams."
-Dave Wayne,

"The set jumps out of the speakers, the excitement is palpable and the shifts into and out of structure raise goosebumps... Eleven is a superb example of jazz composition and performance of today."
-Budd Kopman, All About Jazz

"With the captivating “Eleven” Halley hits a high point in his otherwise superlative career. He and his 4, with their original and masterful explorations, keep the innovative spirit of the free jazz movement alive."
-Hrayr Attarian, Jazz Times

"Oregon-based saxophonist Rich Halley has been turning out smart, brawny music for a couple of decades."
-James Hale, DownBeat

"A free rider from the Left Coast, tenor saxophonist-composer Rich Halley is a powerful player with one foot in the Coleman Hawkins-Don Byas camp and the other confidently striding into the edgier realms of such ferocious players as David S. Ware and, at his most intense, Peter Brötzmann or Albert Ayler... In New York, he’d be a star on the avant-garde scene; but for now, you have to fly to Portland to see this tenor titan perform."
-Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times

"Crossing The Passes is a superlative disc and a high point in Halley's uniformly splendid career. It is sophisticated and provocative, erudite and brash, melodic and unconstrained. In brief, it is what exquisite art should be and what Halley and his bands always strive to deliver."
-Hrayr Attarian, All About Jazz

"One of the best avant garde jazz records so far this year, this gets my nod easily over some of the more highly touted records coming from New York or Chicago. It goes to show that excellence in jazz isn’t necessarily tied to a location."
-Victor Aaron, Something Else!

"One of the best working quartets in jazz today."
-Robert Ianapollo, Cadence

"No saxophonist out there is playing with more fire, muscle, sheer guts or wild abandon than Halley. But as out there as he can get, there's always a boppish discipline, a thread of containment"
-Dan McClenaghan, allaboutjazz

"Freewheeling and satisfying."
-Eric Fine, DownBeat

"Halley triangulates the sprawling tenor tradition and the compositional trajectory begun by Ornette Coleman, a heady proposition... This mark of maturity is also abundantly clear on his solos on “Gray Stones/Shards of Sky” and “The River’s Edge is Ice,” where he effortlessly blends tinges of Hawk and Newk with avantish exhortations... what Halley offers with "Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival" perhaps one of the more profound statements that can be made in these times."
-Bill Shoemaker,

"Catchy, robust and often boisterous but also extremely erudite, the Rich Halley Quartet’s Requiem for a Pit Viper is one of the most dynamic, entertaining albums of the year in any style of music."
Lucid Culture

"Chronicles a fiery, upbeat performance that combines composed and improvised music in an interesting and enjoyable set of tunes... Halley is superb throughout; confident, tight and fluid, whether trading lead lines with Bradford or creating his own dynamic solos."
-Bruce Lindsay,

"There is a composer aesthetic going on -- even in the four group improvisations that grace this disc -- the sense of interplay seems grounded in a shared history. Crossing The Passes represents the finest possible honed-edge in post Ornette Coleman Quartet dynamics -- adventurous, musical and swinging."
-Robert Bush, San Diego Reader

"The desolate, rugged landscapes in the cover snapshots are a fitting analogue to the deliberate articulation of Halley's tenor sax in this bare bones trio. Based in Oregon and trained as a field biologist with previous records about Saxophone Animals and Coyotes in the City, Halley obviously comes at free jazz from far afield. And he's collaborated with Dave Storrs and Clyde Reed for so long that they get the balance just right. A Minus"
-Tom Hull, The Village Voice

"Live" is full of surprises and edgy, angular twists and turns..."Streets Below" out-funks even Coleman's Prime Time, and it's hot, with polyphony like Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Sevens. All these lateral references might suggest pastiche, but Halley is a scary student of the jazz game, so it all comes out as earthy as,well, the earth itself... Halley is clearly a master, and versed in music theory. If he keeps engendering thoughts of other artists, and waxes poetic, it is because he has so artfully hidden his art. This is poetry for the inner ear."
-Gordon Marshall,

“The stylistic variety of Halley's work, from his free-bopping tenor-bass-drums power trios of the early 2000s to the more elaborately scored Charles Mingus-meets-Sun Ra little big band projects he headed in the 1980s, is as deep as it is broad. The only constants are their consistent musical excellence and the sort of artistic energy that comes from intense curiosity. Halley's current band, a quartet featuring indefatigable trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, leavens the freewheeling intuitive approach of his more recent trio work with the more tightly focused and compositionally oriented aspects of his earlier material… A truly engaging listen.”
-Dave Wayne, All About Jazz

"The music's appeal is its unusual and engaging mixture of structure and freedom—sometimes very wild freedom. More than a decade into an always gripping effort to perfect his singular, adventurous, often torrid free bop small ensemble sound, Rich Halley sounds supremely-inspired by the company he is keeping, and he may have made his best CD to date with Requiem for a Pit Viper."
-Dan McClenaghan,

"Tenor saxophonist Rich Halley has been making bold, uncompromising music outside the jazz mainstream for over 30 years. An adventurous neo-traditionalist with a predilection for the expressive potential of free jazz, Halley’s robust tenor testimonials invoke numerous antecedents, ranging from swing-era icons like Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster to probing modernists like Sonny Rollins and Dewey Redman."
-Troy Collins, Point of Departure

"While Halley's tenor technique is all-inclusive, occasionally breaking out with more jagged screeches, honks and multiphonics, he's equally concerned with space, thematic development - even groove. Proof that free jazz can be accessible, even though many of Halley's compositions are loose sketches to be used as jumping-off points, the album is surprisingly listenable - surprising, that is, if you haven't already heard the trio's earlier recordings. "
-John Kelman, allaboutjazz

"Halley is an advanced, modern player with a ferocious, warbling tone, complete command of his horn and an eclectic approach that takes in both traditional improvising and free-wheeling, expressive sounds... [Coyotes in the City is] a fine new album that nicely captures the fierce spirit of the group."
-Paul DeBarros, Seattle Times

"The album consists entirely of original compositions by Halley, which immediately cast it in the light of "cutting edge." Combined with freedom of expression, independent thought, purposeful execution, the courage to follow the inner self, the talent to give it voice, and then, to let the chips fall where they may; suddenly, jazz in its purest, essential form is possible; jazz that must survive; jazz that is the original American art form, becomes the reality. This is the free jazz of The Rich Halley Quartet."
-C.J. Bond,

"There have been times when jazz and the spoken word appeared inseparable. Brief times, but times when the combination was a powerful artistic and (counter) cultural force. Children Of The Blue Supermarket brings those times back, a reminder of how effective a partnership the jazz musician and the poet can create. Maybe it's the new thing."
-Bruce Lindsay, allaboutjazz

"Play Halley's exceptionally well-recorded new "Objects" (Louie) loud, and hear not only the easy flow of why-didn't-I-think-of-that structures, but the subtle note-to-note variations in volume, shaping and tone (imagine if Dexter Gordon grew up 30 years later) that only masters can achieve. Halley's logic contrasts with the playful reactivity of longtime trio mates Clyde Reed (bass) and Dave Storrs (drums), who...create DNA-specific free jazz."
-Greg Burk, LA Weekly

"Like the very best of them, every time Rich Halley puts his horn in his mouth it's a celebration of the sound of the saxophone. His powerhouse blowing capacity and testosterone-soaked sound hearken to the great Sonny Rollins and the late Dewey Redman. His ensemble approach featuring two horns—cornet and saxophone, supported by bass and drums —comes from the classic Ornette Coleman period. But the music's personality is pure Rich Halley."
-Dan McClenaghan,

"Tenor saxophonist Rich Halley teams up here with acclaimed cornetist Bobby Bradford for a foray through some of Rich's own compositions. Imaginative ideas abound and all are executed with considerable flair and polish. The front line horns are backed with spirit by bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley. This is music that retains hints of the jazz style of earlier years while never losing the feel of contemporary improvised music."
-Bruce Crowther,

"Prominent USA West Coast jazz artists, saxophonist Rich Halley and cornetist Bobby Bradford, disseminate a restless spirit, boosted by memorable compositions and compelling improvisational jaunts... Vibrant and loaded with unanticipated surprises, Halley's broad jazz vernacular and enviable chops help consummate a diverse program that yields several knockout blows."
-Glenn Astarita,

""Objects" is classic sax/bass/drums blowing and it's tremendous stuff all round. Halley's tenor playing is stern and carefully-weighted, his lines so definite they sound like they're carved on the air; his soprano has something of the genial detachment of Steve lacy. This is a group which often reverses roles: here, the horn is often the most stable element of the music, while bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Dave Storrs are the quickchange artists. There's one standard, a gorgeous tumultuous "Over the Rainbow"...The other five pieces take their bearings from simple but effective heads by Halley, though the peformances are sufficiently freewheeling that there's no telling where they'll go."
-Nate Dorward, Paris Transatlantic Magazine

"Whether he's playing tenor or soprano sax, Halley is fierce, his style a heady mix of mainstream and "out" concepts. Of the six tracks here, five are loosely structured but finely developed free pieces, and they find the trio stretching vigorously. Storrs throws odd vocalizations into the mix on the funky "Back in the 400 Club" and the epic finale, "Thickets/Pavement" which Halley begins on wood flute. But just when you think you've got Halley pegged as a maverick free player, along comes "Over the Rainbow", rendered in the classic tenor ballad tradition, summoning Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Liebman and beyond."
-David R Adler, All Music Guide

"Dan Raphael is... terrific here: the phrases just shoot out, nearly every one hitting an unexpected target somewhere beyond you... Striking as the poetry might be on its own, the sax shadowing it heightens every line. Halley has a distinctive sound and style, comparable (not to say similar) to Von Freeman. He can't stretch out much here, but is terrific nonetheless."
-Tom Hull, Jazz Prospecting

"Tenor saxophonist Halley's raspy tone and swaggery timing make him a fine Bradford foil, and the trumpeter is expert at bending his sound to fit his partner's. He knows when to lay back, or quietly harmonize, or twine his line around the tenor in counterpoint, or leap up to lead the charge...Drummer Dave Storrs brings an effective combination of busyness and lift, evoking Edward Blackwell's parade beats just enough to make Bradford feel at home. Vancouver bassist Clyde Reed has a plump tugged-string tone and a slippery sense of time that lets him place accents along a sliding scale within a bar. He and Storrs push ahead and build tension at once. With support like that, Bradford and Halley can sail and wail. The music swings: it's tuneful, it's cohesive."
-Kevin Whitehead, The Absolute Sound

"You know what you are getting into when the music starts to boil and spark on the first track. The saxophonist remarks in the notes for this disc that some of the music was written for a series of outdoor concerts in a nature setting east of Portland and that also reflects in the music; there is an air about Reed's rich dark tone on the upright bass that blends with Storr's restless percussion to create a buoyant support for the tenor saxophonist, particularly on the sinuous "Half Light" where Halley waxes breathy like Dexter, then catches fire. The opposite side of his nature comes through loud and clear on the final selection "Rimrocks" where he lights into multiphonics that threaten to scorch the disc."
-Steve Vickery, Signal to Noise

"Halley's inventive circular breathing on the soprano sax and his rhythmic drive show that he deserves far more recognition."
-Aaron Cohen, Down Beat

"When the first ferocious sounds of Rich Halley's "Coyotes in the City" came growling out of the stereo, I thought: Ornette on tenor and Ornette's playing with an attitude today. ...That opener - a take no prisoners tour de force entitled "Green, Brown and Blue" - burns for thirteen-plus minutes, long enough to singe the little hairs in your ear canals. ...The CD as a whole - after the first frontal assault of the opener - is atmospheric, eerie, beautiful in a restrained and dangerous-sounding way. Halley's tenor playing is muscular in the Sonny Rollins sense, and his compositions and backing are cohesive, tight and sublime."
-Dan McClenaghan, The American Reporter

David Leibman Review in Saxophone Journal

Coyotes in the City review on by Ken Waxman
Review of Live at Beanbenders on The Improvisor
Review of Louie Records and Coyotes in the City on All About Jazz by Laurence Donohue-Greene


Biographical article from Jazz Forum


Rich Halley (born November 25, 1947, Portland, Oregon) is an American jazz saxophonist and composer. He has released 20 recordings as a leader and is known for his asymmetrical and rhythmic compositions and his fiery playing.

Rich Halley is the only child of Richard Halley Sr., an economics professor at Portland State University, and Libby Anne Halley, a reading and special education teacher. Growing up, he spent much of his time hiking, camping, hunting and fishing and at an early age developed a lifelong passion for nature and the outdoors. He spent summers at the family homestead in Richland, Oregon near the Wallowa Mountains. At 15, he discovered jazz, and immediately became intensely interested in the music.

Halley began playing clarinet at age 11 and tenor saxophone at age 15. In 1965-66 He lived in Cairo, Egypt where he played in a band with an international repertoire. When he arrived at the University of Chicago in 1966 he found himself surrounded by blues music and culture and the explorations of the AACM. In 1967-68 he played in Home Juice, a blues band in Chicago that included Jeff Carp, Jordan Sandke and Paul Asbell. In 1968 he moved back to the Western US where he played in Latin bands, rhythm & blues bands and jazz groups in San Francisco, Albuquerque and Portland. His early influences included Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler as well as Jim Pepper, who was also from Portland.

Between 1968 and 1975 he interspersed periods of musical activity with time spent climbing mountains and exploring the deserts and jungles of the Western US, Mexico and Central America.

From 1977-81 Halley performed in the experimental group Multnomah Rhythm Ensemble that explored improvised music in combination with multi-media. His first recording, Multnomah Rhythms (Avocet), was released in 1983.

During the 80’s and 90’s, Halley was the leader of the Lizard Brothers, a three or four horn sextet that released five recordings on Avocet and Nine Winds and performed in the US and Canada. The Lizard Brothers featured complex, multi-sectioned charts combined with open improvisation. At various times the group included, reed player Vinny Golia, trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, trumpeter Rob Blakeslee, saxophonist Troy Grugett, saxophonist Gary Harris, trombonist Tom Hill, pianist Geoff Lee, bassist Phil Sparks and drummer William Thomas.

In 1991-92 Halley played in the cooperative band Jack’s Headlights that included trumpeter Rob Blakeslee, saxophonist Hans Teuber, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Aaron Alexander.

Halley co-founded Portland’s Creative Music Guild in 1991 after being disappointed with the lack of performing opportunities for non-traditional jazz musicians. Since 1994 he has been the musical director of the Penofin Jazz Festival in Northern California, which has presented many leading creative jazz artists.

In 2001, Halley formed a trio with bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Dave Storrs. This band was more oriented toward free improvisation and less toward writing. From 2001 to 2005 the group released three trio recordings on Louie Records plus a quartet recording with cornetist Bobby Bradford in 2003.

Rich Halley is also the leader of the Outside Music Ensemble, a four horn/two percussion sextet that performs in purely acoustic outdoor settings. For 13 consecutive years the OME performed annual hike-in concerts on top of the butte in Powell Butte Nature Park as part of the Portland Parks Summer Concert Series. The group includes trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, trumpeter Jim Knodle, saxophonist Troy Grugett, percussionist Dave Storrs and drummer Carson Halley.

In 2010, Halley released Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival featuring cornetist Bobby Bradford on his own label, Pine Eagle Records. Around this time he formed the Rich Halley 4 with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley, his son. This group has released three recordings.

Halley emphasizes the importance what he calls compositional group improvisation. This is the spontaneous development of musical structures by the group as it improvises, creating a varied musical story which provides a foundation for the drama and emotion in the music.

Rich Halley has worked with poets and dancers over the years and in 2011 he released Children of the Blue Supermarket with poet Dan Raphael and drummer Carson Halley. This CD was picked as one of the best recordings of the year by Tom Hull in the Rhapsody jazz poll.

In 2011, the Rich Halley 4 released Requiem for a Pit Viper, which was picked by Francis Davis in the Village Voice as one of the best recordings of the year. Davis recognized Halley as one of the top up and coming saxophonists in jazz.

In 2012, the Rich Halley 4 released Back From Beyond, which was listed in DownBeat as one of the best CD’s of the year.

In 2013, the Rich Halley 4 released Crossing the Passes, which was listed in DownBeat as one of the best CD’s of the year.

In 2013, the Rich Halley 4 released Crossing the Passes, which was listed in DownBeat as one of the best CD’s of the year.

In 2014, the Rich Halley 4 released The Wisdom of Rocks and toured the Midwest.

In 2015, The Rich Halley 4 released Creating Structure and Eleven on Pine Eagle Records and toured the East Coast.

In 2016, The Rich Halley 5 (including Vinny Golia) released The Outlier on Pine Eagle Records.

In 2017, Rich Halley and Carson Halley released The Wild on Pine Eagle Records.

Halley has performed with Vinny Golia, Obo Addy, Michael Bisio, Bobby Bradford, Nels Cline, David Friesen, Julius Hemphill, Andrew Hill, Oliver Lake and Tony Malaby.

Halley was educated as a field biologist and received an M.S. in Biology from the University of New Mexico where he did research on rattlesnakes. His lifelong interest in nature has informed his music and led him on many trips into wilderness regions around the world. He worked for many years in information technology. He is married to Betty Halley and lives in Portland, Oregon.

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