Pianist Hal Galper and his quartet play melodic post-bop with a slippery rhythmic foundation. It's music that surprises the listener at every turn with fascinating details and tightly synchronized independent lines. Galper, who spent a decade with the hard-bopping bands of alto saxophonist Phil Woods, plays with a masterful, dancing touch and harmonies grounded in his bop experience. But he extends the tradition in interesting ways, as evidenced by this live recording from the 2016 Cota Jazz Festival in northeastern Pennsylvania.
On "O's Time" and "Speak With a Single Voice," Galper's solos are full of long, sinuous lines and Monkishly off-center chords, but he also ventures outside the changes. It's his group concept of "rubato" playing that really carries the bop verities in new directions. The quartet is constantly playing with time, moving in and out of tempo, playing several tempos at once, avoiding direct statement of the beat and shifting focus in support of the soloists. It's a subtle art that requires attentive listening and fast reflexes on the part of the players.
Galper's young quartet rises to meet the challenges of his demanding concept. With a big, sturdy sound that sparkles in the upper register, alto saxophonist Nathan Bellot runs in and out of dark emotional shadows and optimistic sunshine on Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye." Bassist Dean Torrey and drummer David Frazier provide malleable support in their tug of war with the time and in their variety of colors and textures. They make even their most elusive time games sound flowing and organic. This sinuous, exuberant music keeps you guessing about what's around the corner.