You can?t help but be inspired and even touched by the continued accomplishments of a respected musician who really doesn?t have anything to prove at this stage of the game but can?t stop growing and experimenting.
Pianist Hal Galper, who first recorded with some pretty fast company in the Sixties like Chet Baker, Sam Rivers, and Bobby Hutcherson, is perhaps best known for his decade-long stint with Phil Woods in the Eighties. Trip the Light Fantastic
is the third release by his trio with bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop, which focuses on playing rubato, variously defined as ?rhythmic flexibility within a phrase or measure? or ?subtle rhythmic manipulation and nuance in performance.? For Galper and his willing and able collaborators, the rubato style is a way of creating new instant directions for their collectively improvised performances.
They?re off and running with an uptempo look at the standard ?Alice In Wonderland.? Galper?s emphatic attack, Johnson?s quick-fingered bass and Bishop?s busy, insistent drums combine in a near-frenzy of brisk improvisation. It?s apparent from the way that the rhythms disperse and congeal with uncanny togetherness that playing together over a few years has molded this trio with a shared sense of time and the general shape of a performance. When they?re playing at faster tempos, the three share a tendency to fill up the musical space with a lot of notes. Indeed, the trio?s first release was called Furious Rubato. The density alone is not to everyone?s taste, and I?m more partial to the ebb and flow of a ballad like Ron Miller?s ?Babes of Cancun? than to the crash and burn of the opener. Plenty of listeners, used to a steady pulse or a beat they can follow, will no doubt be put off by the ever-changing rhythmic environment no matter what the tempo. Galper and his bandmates are so single-minded about the approach that they make it work, mostly through the sheer exuberance of Galper?s extroverted playing. On an original like ?Get Up & Go,? a rubato rendering is practically demanded by the startlingly splashy run across the keyboard that announces the piece and reappears at various intervals to reinvigorate the harmonic and rhythmic landscape.
Galper?s carefully considered piano solo seems to evoke predecessors including Monk, Bobby Timmons, and Don Pullen, before turning the spotlight over to Johnson for an exploratory and slightly busy solo prodded gently by Bishop?s drums. A pastoral piano passage is ended abruptly by the splash of trebly piano and the repeat of the theme. Galper and bassist Johnson, with an especially pungent solo, rhapsodize on ?I Guess I?ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry? in a winningly lyrical performance. Two more Galper originals, the ominous sounding ?Suspension? and the churning upbeat waltz that gives the disc its name, give the trio plenty of material to work with. Galper is superb on ?Trip the Light Fantastic,? spurred by Bishop?s explosive off-kilter rhythms.
The disc concludes with another standard, ?Be My Love,? a favorite of piano players, singers, and saxophonists alike. Galper and company have fun with it, coming out roaring and slipping into some exciting fast groove playing. It?s exhausting but deeply satisfying at the same time, a combination that pretty much characterizes the whole album. Well worth repeated listening.