It's not often that seasoned jazz musicians find one of their own recordings truly revelatory in hindsight. Yet here's a striking example. As acclaimed veteran pianist Hal Galper recalls in his CD liner notes, he had no intention of releasing this live 2016 trio session with bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop until he heard a playback and found himself wondering, "Who is this pianist?" To Galper, the playback revealed such a heightened level of trio interplay, not fully appreciated during the performance, that he arranged for it to be released on CD and dubbed, aptly enough, The Zone. It's hard to imagine Galper devotees or, more broadly, jazz piano trio fans faulting the decision.
Imaginatively arranged and stylistically varied, The Zone is bookended by a pair of contrasting delights: a lovely, harmonically nuanced treatment of "Israel," inspired in part by pianist Bill Evans' artful touch; and a brief, rousing reprise of the vintage R&B hit "Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite"—a surefire send-off, of course. The trio really excels, however, when the focus shifts to original tunes. Nothing is more bracing than Galper's "Scufflin'." Inspired by his early postbop adventures, it's laced with swift tradeoffs and vibrantly punctuated by Johnson's handiwork. By contrast, the roomy, soulful "Artist," one of four appealing pieces penned by the bassist, quietly insists on repeat plays. Galper may have been surprised by what he later discovered in these seven performances, but the joy he derived from the concert in the moment—recorded at the Yardbird Suite in Edmonton, Alberta—is unmistakable, and understandable, throughout.