LV's Uptown? Portland, OR - Friday April 6th, 2007
Hal Galper is a master of progressive jazz. A noted author and educator, he has taught music for many years in several of the top schools in the jazz pantheon, and his touring career has brought him to all corners of the world. What a delight it was to have him here. His bandmates, John Bishop and Jeff Johnson hail from Seattle and constitute the last two thirds of Hal's West Coast band.
"ESP" This first piece was a recognizable theme at first, with eight to sixteen bars in it, not overtly stated, leading to a very long improvisation. Complex chords and clusters, showing Hal's tremendous power and grace. This is not easy listening. The force of creativity demands effort from the listener, yet the current of beautiful expression offers rich rewards. Always musical, but unpredictable, it makes one wonder how the bass player manages to place his navigational notes.
Wild abandoned runs over changes that are barely discernable, with a conversational meter, make this music emotionally stirring. Very beautiful soloing from Jeff and John. Nice spicy comping from Hal during these solos. Exceptional brushwork in the quiet passages by John Bishop.
"How Deep Is The Ocean's" well hidden theme, again makes the listener dig to understand how the notes refer to the familiar melody. If the reader has heard John Stowell, this puzzle form of improvisation is familiar. The emotional content of a piece of music is expanded on, and the chord structure is only obliquely referred to, until at the very last the theme is stated, either confirming your suspicions, or your misconceptions. It is a device that provides a deep freedom for the player, while engaging the audience and making for a deeply satisfying listening experience.
"Zen" Very slow and soft contemplative intro statement, with stabbing accent chords, obviously a Galper invention, and this field then accented by more stabbing individual notes over rolling chords from the left hand. The effect is like a zen painter revealing the inner picture on a canvas. This composition seems to have two or more modalities. Lots of block chords. The bass solo starts out as the piano did, with a contemplative feel, and then long tremolo notes, then it picks up into a staccato walking bass line, all over the instrument. The playful strumming chordal accents are Jeff signature element, which he uses very sparingly with great effect. As is often the case with this music, the rhythmic element is loose, more like conversation than a strict marching meter.
"Dear Old Stockholm" Swedish folksong as interpreted by John Coltrane. This familiar tune has stirred the hearts of legions of jazz fans and bound them to the musicians like Coltrane who are able to express this depth. Hal is one of them. Hal plays with the meter, dragging the second of the two note sequence, pulling the bass into a dramatic emphasis, before embarking on piano explorations with masterful arpeggios, clusters and other homage's to our beloved Black Saint, John. Again the meter is flexible, but more discernable in this rendition of the standard, though the chord changes are well hidden until Hal wants us to hear them. He wants us to savor the sublime and deep elements he has uncovered, hiding in the bushes like eggs at an Easter Egg hunt.
There is a strong and engaging personality that makes Hal so enjoyable. He obviously does not consider himself a showman or entertainer, though he does deliver a great show. He definitely plays for himself and his band mates, and anyone who is willing to stretch their ears to hear the deep significance of this music. During solos, he sometime looks back at the wall, seeming to engage with the art on the wall mare than with the audience. I'd even say he does not distinguish himself from the audience, in an odd way. It is like he is exploring for us all, like a captain on a musical ship, and when he stops to receive our praise he only does so reluctantly, eager to share his next adventure.
"Green Dolphin Street" Angular Solo Exposition of the Theme in an intro before the band enters into the song as a "re-harmonized" version. The meter is again a foil for Hal's playfulness. There is a bluesy element, seeming to make this elegant European theme more down home. There is no exact reproduction of the melody, but instead an intimation of it, with beautiful rapid runs off meter, adding even more excitement.
Hal's approach to the instrument is very commanding, and he's swinging hard. As in the title of the recent CD released by this Trio, on Origin Records, "Furious Rubato," some of these passages are definitely "furious." The mastery of each of these players is stunning. Jeff Johnson's articulation is magnificent. There are moments when the band is cooking just right and you can visibly see Hal beaming with delight; the master becomes a young boy at play!
"Naima," The wonderful Coltrane ballad with a fine Latin beat from John. This, a treat for the audience, if the foregoing has been a feast. John is wonderfully adept at the tiny details of dynamics. As Jeff solos, John provides a palette of dozens of detailed sounds from his high hat, and the effect is magnificent.
"Darn That Dream?"
There were many more pieces that I wasn't able to identify, but enjoyed thoroughly. This is a room full of very happy people.
Our neighbor to the North, Seattle, has many fine musicians, but few as adept as Jeff Johnson and John Bishop. Each is a leader in his own right, and John is deeply involved with recording with his Origin Records, www.originarts.com, , and with the online magazine, www.allaboutjazz.com. AAJ is a revelation for jazz fans and players. Jeff Johnson has a great website at www.jazzbassist.com.