In the jazz world, there is avant-garde and very avant-garde -- somewhat radical and very radical. Charles Gayle is a perfect example of a saxophonist who takes avant-garde jazz to the extreme; tenor saxophonist Rich Halley, meanwhile, is left-of-center but not as far to the left as a firebrand like Gayle. An inside/outside approach prevails on The Blue Rims, which finds Halley leading a pianoless quartet that employs Bobby Bradford on cornet and percussion, Clyde Reed on acoustic bass, and Dave Storrs on drums and percussion. This 2002 session isn't about atonal chaos; the quartet will state a discernible theme or melody before the individual soloists let loose and blow. So The Blue Rims has structure as well as a strong sense of freedom -- the performances have direction and never sound aimless. But for Halley and his colleagues, inside/outside doesn't mean catering to those who are easily intimidated by jazz's avant-garde. Drawing on influences that range from Ornette Coleman to the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Dave Liebman, Halley's themes are abstract, cerebral, angular, and complex; no one will accuse The Blue Rims of being pop-jazz. This CD certainly doesn't go out of its way to be accessible to pop audiences -- for that matter, The Blue Rims doesn't roll out the carpet for hard bop fans. But those who appreciate avant-garde jazz that is challenging without being totally extreme will find Halley's improvisations to be very passionate and soulful. Halley plays with a lot of conviction on The Blue Rims, which isn't his most essential release but is still an enjoyable, worthwhile addition to his catalog.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson