Pianist Hal Galper spent a big part of his career working with some of the giants of the mainstream, players like trumpeter Chet Baker, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, guitar master John Scofield and bop alto sax legend Phil Woods. With his Agents of Change (Fabola Records, 2006), a trio outing with drummer Billy Mintz and bassist Tony Marino, he moved out of the familiar flow to explore the "rubato style" of playing, an open, circular approach to time and melody.
On Furious Rubato he forges ahead with that exploratory process, again in the trio setting, enlisting bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop to round out his sound.
From the first cut, Miles Davis' "Milestones," there's a feeling of leaving a comfort zone behind and embracing that change with a familiar/foreign dynamic. The melody remains recognizable, but Galper stretches it and bends it around, revealing new shades and shapes of beauty inside the tune. The also familiar John Coltrane composition, "Naima," gets a similar treatment, as does another Miles Davis tune, "Miles Ahead." Also included are four Galper originals and one by Johnson, "Zen."
Galper's succinctly phrased, percussive and sometimes brittle piano style brings bop pioneer Bud Powell to mind. His up-tempo "Figurine" has a tumbling water vibe, and some compellingly off-kilter comping behind Jeff Johnson's rumbling bass solo. The ten minute-plus Galper original, "Valse Cool," has a classic-sounding melody, like something from The Great American Songbook getting stretched and compressed, then stretched anew.
An innovative direction, Furious Rubato takes a few spins to assimilate, but they are spins well worth the effort. It's a listening experience that pushes the boundaries of the comfort zone, and beautifully so.