It's hard to be innovative in the piano trio format. The last big change happened in the late fifties and early sixties, with pianist Bill Evans' groundbreaking trio featuring bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. The democratization of input and interplay changed the trio game, and countless groups have worked on refining that Evans approach ever since. A more recent development has been bombast and the inclusion of rock and popular tunes into the jazz piano trio endeavor, with varying degrees of success. Rubato playing, the stretching and varying of tempos, in a three way improvisational way, is pianist Hal Galper's contribution to piano trio innovation.
is Galper's sixth recording in the rubato style on Origin Records. His trio, with bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop, perfected their approach with 2011's Airegin Revisited
. The current offering rolls that artistic peak out on a high plateau, twisting the familiar (John Coltrane "Like Sonny," Charlie Chaplain's "Smile") into different shapes, revealing different sides to the melodic threads.
Coltrane's "Like Sonny" opens the set. The three voices bounce off each other like a cocktail party conversation, synchronous and discordant at the same time. And like that party, as the drinks flow, the volume rises toward the raucous without, on this tune at least, actually going there. Then there's the Zen serenity of a Johnson bass solo, sparely comped by Galper.
Saxophonist Wayne Shorter's "Wildflower" has a "fractured then put back together" feeling, turbulent drums from Bishop behind Galper's relative restraint. O's Time
, written by Galper in honor of alto saxophonist/free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, moves away from the concept of restraint. It rolls and tumbles and sounds like, at its peak, a piano trio stuffed into a burlap bag and pushed down the stairs, with the players hanging on tight and still keeping the tune from chaos. And Charlie Chaplain's much-covered "Smile" sounds like they're set up on the back of a flatbed truck, careening ninety miles an hours down a winding mountain road.
Exhilarating! The Hal Galper Trio shows the others guys what innovative is all about.