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Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says in times like these, when major record labels show limited interest in jazz, musicians turn to issuing recordings on their own labels. Kevin looks at two new indie recordings from far-flung saxophonists - Oregon's Rich Halley and Chicago's Dave Rempis.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Portland tenor saxophonist Rich Halley's quartet, from "Crossing the Passes" on his Pine Eagle label. The album commemorates a week-long trek over the Wallowa Mountain Range in northeast Oregon, where Halley's been climbing since he was a boy. We could talk about his dual obsessions with music and nature as cultivating a love of wide-open, improvisational spaces. He's got one band that only plays outdoors.

But all that climbing also has practical benefits. It builds lung power. Rich Halley has a big, full-throated sound that may recall prime Sonny Rollins.


WHITEHEAD: You could look at Rich Halley's interest in remote locales as a metaphor for how his music developed, far from the jazz capitals. Not that he's out of touch. He's learned volumes from studying Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus and others. But one's individual voice is also a function of who you improvise with. What you react to helps shape what you play.

His colleagues come from up and down the West Coast: the great Vancouver bassist Clyde Reed, Los Angeles' brash and burly trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, and the saxophonist's son and climbing partner Carson Halley on drums. They bring clarity and counterpoint even to the improvised pieces, like a themeless blues.


WHITEHEAD: Rich Halley's been recording for three decades, about twice as long as Chicago saxophonist Dave Rempis, who shares his interest in orderly improvising with long-term collaborators. Rempis is involved with so many bands, he started his own label, Aerophonic. One of their debut releases is by the trio Wheelhouse, with a fine, non-egotistical bassist, Nick McBride, and one of the great vibraphonists of our time, Jason Adasiewicz.


WHITEHEAD: Wheelhouse's CD is called "Boss of the Plains," the original name for the broad-brimmed Stetson that evolved into the hat of choice for cowboys and Boy Scouts. The photo inside the CD sleeve depicts a vintage GMC truck cab dominating a flat landscape. There's an air of wide open spaces above this mostly subdued music, too, but then Chicago does lie at the edge of the Central Plains.

Jason Adasiewicz's vibes can evoke wind chimes on a farmhouse porch when the weather changes and light and dark clouds billowing on the horizon.


WHITEHEAD: Of course, Chicago's a sprawling city, too, and in Wheelhouse's music, you can also hear the screech of an L train rounding a curve or the factory across the highway. The trio's music also relates to the South Side's influential AACM cooperative, whose musicians likewise favor unusual combinations and plenty of unrestricted horizontal space.


WHITEHEAD: One of the strengths of jazz or improvised music is that it's susceptible to influences from all over. It's never about just one thing. So we're not arguing for geographical determinism, but where an artist lives does make a difference, even when the effect isn't as obvious as on these two new CDs.


DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure, Down Beat, and eMusic and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Crossing the Passes" by Rich Halley's quartet and "Boss of the Plains" by the Dave Rempis trio Wheelhouse. You can download podcasts of our show at Follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair, and on Tumblr at

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