Hal Galper's Airgen Revisited is exhilarating. The pianist has been working at his artistry for more than a half century, and he is moving surely into the "elder statesman of jazz" category, riding the furious wave of several distinctive and idiosyncratic trio recordings. Galper, like alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Martial Solal, has gone deeper into the music than seems possible, taking a great many standards and unleashing them, reshaping the familiar tunes with his unwavering vision into a new art.
Galper has, in recent years, found a new home at Origin Records, offering a discography?Furious Rubato (2007), Art-Work (2009) E Pluribus Unum (2010) and Trip the Light Fantastic (2011)?that gets better and more compelling, with each subsequent release. He has also found two likeminded musical brothers in bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop, versatile and sophisticated players who can keep up with his rubato concept, one of playing loose and free with tempo and harmony?even structure?twisting the familiar forms like a rubber band, then pulling them back and letting them fly free.
Opening with an eleven minute-plus take on George Gershwin's "Embraceable You," the trio shifts shapes and colors, playing with the melody in a joyous exploration that slips, near the end, into a brief straight reading. The floating "One Step Closer," a Galper original inspired by Brazilian harmony, finds Johnson and Bishop laying down a subtle and graceful rhythm, with the pianist going into a sparkling Erroll Garner groove in his solo.
Galper did what he calls his "post-graduate work" in Sam Rivers' band in the mid-sixties, and played on the saxophonist's A New Conception (Blue Note, 1966). Homage is paid to the teacher on Rivers' "Melancholia." Rivers was a rule-breaker, and student Galper learned lasting lessons, with the trio's version paying homage by slowing things down to evoke a sense of loss at Rivers' passing near the end of 2011.
In another homage, Galper closes the disc with saxophone legend Sonny Rollins' title track. A fourteen-minute tour de force with, Bishop's cymbals steaming, and Johnson, bowing, it adds a viscous underpinning to an exuberant finale to this stunning album.