Despite having recorded with names such as John Scofield, Michael and Randy Brecker, Cannonball Adderley, and Lee Konitz, it's very seldom to see the name of Hal Galper on lists of top-notch jazz pianists. However, he proves people wrong through a bunch of phenomenal albums released in an exciting career spanning fifty years.
On his most recent recording, Cubist, he is joined by longtime associates Jerry Bergonzi on tenor saxophone, Jeff Johnson on bass, and John Bishop on drums, who, together, form a very compact quartet. Their music carries much of the jazz tradition, but they are capable of garnishing those delicious plates with fresh scents and contemporary flavors.
A revamped rendition of Miles Davis' "Solar" couldn't be a better example. It poses with a marvelous rubato introduction from piano, followed by Bergonzi's daring bop-ish language, which wisely expands in other directions in order to shine beyond the conventional. Galper keeps the cool pose, playing the harmonic changes with skill, even when intense bass and drums set a hectic swing in motion. In the course of the first couple choruses of his improvisation, Johnson works around the theme's melody and then takes off toward a different galaxy, which he paints with attractive rhythmic figures and stunning patterns.
The proficient bassist brings four of his own compositions to this session, namely, "Artists", a ballad whose apparent faintness doesn't hamper the artists' force of speech; "Kiwi", a 3/4 piece with discerning harmonic and soloing work from the bandleader; the title track, "Cubist", where saxophone and bass fly in unison (with the piano assisting them in the phrase completions) before a speedy swinging verve is triumphantly installed; and "Scene West", which sort of recreates a Freddie Freeloader-like atmosphere with startups and halts.
If the latter piece comes close to Miles Davis, Galper's sole tune, "Scufflin" is definitely more Coltrane style, recalling the intro of "Moment's Notice" in its melodic statement. Elated, this shifting tune has the drummer trading bars with the rest of the band.
The quartet delves into "Israel", a song composed by John Carisi and popularized by Miles Davis in his Birth of the Cool phase, with passion and nicety. Bishop's brushing perception interlaces with Johnson's booming bass, underpinning Galper's geometric figures brilliantly sketched with a bluesy, post-bop insouciance. Still, it was with the risk-taking blows of Bergonzi that I got that sense of sonic fulfillment. His language, built with a ferocious technique, is influenced by John Coltrane and Joe Henderson, yet his extensive timbral possibilities and energy make us think of Charles Lloyd.
There's so much activity, adherence, and taste in the quartet's moves that feels great to simply abandon ourselves to the music. Cubist is a contemporary record that sparks like a classic and demonstrates how cool is to bring the past into the present with charismatic momentum.