If in jazz “middle of the road” referred to a real stylistic space, as opposed to neither here nor there, saxophonist Rich Halley would be standing in it. On the token standard on his brand-new trio CD, Objects (Louie)–Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow”–he develops small melodic motifs in his solo much as he does on freer pieces, as if to suggest it’s all the same lane to him. On the rest of the program, rhythmic and harmonic schemes unfold as they tumble along at the players’ own pace; there are no bebop steeplechases or static screechy numbers. Such prudent moderation is typical of the Pacific northwest “scene,” if the term can be applied to the regional network of players from Vancouver down through Halley’s hometown of Portland and beyond. Dave Storrs, the drummer (and label owner) here, hails from Corvallis, a few exits south; bassist Clyde Reed is one of Vancouver’s busiest improvisers, owing to his plump sound, team-player instincts, and aversion to cliche. Halley also sidesteps the obvious, never overly beholden to his heroes. You could cite as precedent Sam Rivers’s burly tenor sound and freewheeling 70s trio–except Halley and company resist the temptation to ride groovy vamps for minutes on end. Ornette Coleman’s way of meshing with the bass player to imply chord changes is behind their freewheeling interplay, as is his way of surfing over a chattery snare drum–but Halley avoids Coleman’s signature mannerisms. Albert Ayler’s love of a simple melody and vintage Sonny Rollins’s big tone are likewise in the mix someplace, though Halley trims away the former’s big archaic vibrato and the latter’s rude flatulent accents (and wry humor). He also plays a bit of soprano for variety, and as with many other tenor players I wouldn’t mind if he didn’t, but his warbly wood flute adds an unpatronizing whiff of Native Americana. Storrs plays in a variety of bands of uneven quality, but this one shows him off well: he uses handheld percussion and African and Latin rhythms as natural extensions of the jazz kit and caboodle, not look-at-me gimmicks. All three sound refreshingly sure of where they’re headed–they project a strong sense of direction even when traveling without a map. Friday and Saturday, June 14 and 15, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jeff Lee.