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There’s something especially appealing about a piano-less jazz quartet comprising two horns, bass and drums. Whether it was the Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker group of the early 1950s or the Ornette Coleman Quartet with Don Cherry later in the decade, the setting emphasizes interplay between the horns while the bassist and drummer are free to create infectious rhythms. Absence of piano means that there is usually a creative use of space, and less places for any of the musicians to hide.
Rich Halley, a colorful tenor saxophonist with a large tone whose playing swings even when he goes “outside,” had previously recorded in a quartet setting with both cornetist Bobby Bradford and trombonist Michael Vlatkovich. On Boomslang, Halley’s joined by the skilled cornetist Dan Clucas, longtime bassist Clyde Reed and son and drummer Carson Halley.
The group created five of the nine songs on Boomslang together in the studio while the other four are compositions by the leader. While aspects of the episodic “Northern Plains” — which evolves from a mournful ballad to a joyful two-beat pattern — were clearly worked out in advance, the other performances sound quite spontaneous yet develop logically. All of the musicians display big ears as they react immediately to each other.
Fireworks abound, starting with the energetic “Corroboration” and reaching one of the highpoints with the lengthy and episodic “Dispholidus.” Each musician has multiple opportunities to have his say individually, with Halley expressing a wide range of emotions in his playing. But when all four instrumentalists play off each other, the music on Boomslang becomes particularly exhilarating.