Dec 17, 2018 9:00 AM
Eric Dolphy: The ‘Prophet’ of Freedom
Whether he was wielding his alto saxophone, flute or bass clarinet, Eric Dolphy was a godsend to the cadre of musicians…
Rajiv Halim will tell it to you straight. He’s ready to talk about today.
“A lot of people are stuck in the past,” Halim said. “It’s time to be relevant. I try to look at actual things that are happening.”
The saxophonist still respectfully tips his hat to jazz forebears, the most significant being Charlie Parker. But Halim has emerged from Bird’s shadow as an adept improvisor. With a solo album under his belt and a newly formed quintet, the bandleader hopes to take it further as a musician, but more importantly, as a thought leader.
His optimism has created a fresh, collective confidence among the members of his quintet, many of whom the bandleader has cultivated longstanding relationships with. Bassist Junius Paul is perhaps the troupe’s most seasoned member, playing with Halim for more than a decade. Trombonist Norman Palm, a fellow alum of Ron Haynes’ funky Game Changers outfit, joins Halim on the front line. Add guitarist Matt Gold and drummer Sam Jewel to the mix, and with only a few shows under their collective belt, the group brims with limitless potential.
“[Rajiv] is fearless,” Palm said. “He’s very hands-on about what he wants and expects, and he has no problem articulating those ideas and presenting how it needs to be accomplished. He requires you to go above and beyond, and once you do, that’s when you’re able to incorporate your own personality.”
Raised on soca and calypso, brought up on the funk circuit in Chicago, an evangelist of both AACM and Questlove, Halim’s voracious consumption of all musics helps him “better gauge the cultural landscape,” he said.
Halim’s desire to test the social and political waters represents a logical extension of his 2015 leader date, Foundation, an autobiographical testament to his inspirations and influences that counted contributions by trumpeter Marquis Hill and tenor saxophonist Ari Brown. Among the album’s subjects are the bandleader’s family and friends, as well as a stately homage to past masters—including the Bird tune “Donna Lee” and the straightforward bossa nova “Pasa Tiempo.” Shortly after the album’s release, Halim’s work with other socially conscious artists, among them a contribution to Chance the Rapper’s 2016 Coloring Book, furthered his dedication to high-minded art.
But the bandleader is laudatory about the contributions his own sidemen make to his music.
“They’re all great composers and improvisors,” he said. “Junius is one of the most creative bass players I know, and he just takes the music in a different direction, whereas Norman is incredible with phrasing. Matt just knows how to ‘paint’ on the music. They all add their own flavor.”
Expectations are high, as the quintet commits itself to pushing the envelope onstage and off; each musician seems up for the challenge.
“This situation is different,” Palm said. “They’re probably the most intense outlet Rajiv and I have ever been in; we’re able to stretch. It’s liberating in terms of having the freedom, the creativity and a greater focus on individual practice to capture spirit and essence, rather than just learning parts.”
With a solid quintet in place, Halim—a self-professed political junkie—is ready to move ahead. He’s investing his own creative energies into studying American history and current events, as well as considering collaborations with rappers and spoken-word artists for his next project, an ambitious social commentary he hopes to release in 2019.
“I want the writing process to be organic,” he said. “Whether it’s the band, rappers, vocals, recordings on my phone. ... I’m ready to make the music as intimately personal as I can.” DB
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