Hal Galper, the well-traveled pianist, educator and author, is best-known for his decade-long residency with the Phil Woods Quintet. In 1990, he began earnestly focusing on the art of the trio, heading a touring group with bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer Steve Ellington. With John Bishop replacing Ellington in recent years, Galper has worked on refining a rubato style of collective performance, an approach that's about nothing if not the members' synchronicity. That effort pays off again with the dynamic performances caught on Airegin Revisited
"One Step Closer," the sole original on the album, was influenced by Galper's research into Brazilian harmony. Lush chordings and loose rhythms lead the way before opening up for Johnson's chewy solo and receding with Bishop's swelling cymbals. The pianist toasts a former employer, Sam Rivers, with the saxophonist's composition "Melancholia," the poignancy of which is elevated by Rivers' passing away at the end of 2011. In fact, Galper dedicates the album to Rivers.
Galper honors other influences here, as well. The album begins with a gradually unfurling version of George Gershwin's "Embraceable You," which starts with unaccompanied piano before moving to a free-floating read of the melody. Jimmy Garrison's "Ascendant" benefits from long opening and closing sections given over to fruitful call-and-response between Johnson and Bishop, who've been working together for 20 years. It shows.
Galper saves Sonny Rollins' title song, "Airegin," for last. Taking a cue from Ahmad Jamal's version, the trio play the "C" section only at its close. Galper's interpretation of the bebop standard variously swings hard, weaves and wobbles, gives itself over to more unaccompanied rhythm-section conversations and gains resonance from Johnson's artful bowing. "My apologies to Sonny," Galper writes in the liner notes, probably unnecessarily. It's likely the saxophonist would approve.