Pianist Hal Galper turned away from the life of touring in 2000, and eased into "the shed," to work on some innovative ideas that would change the shape of the piano trio. Rubato is where he went—a style of playing that stretches time, making it flexible, unpredictable and free. It takes special trio mates to assist in this, and he found them in his East Coast Trio, with bassist Tony Marino and drummer Billy Mintz, eventually, the group responsible for the fittingly-titled 2006 album, Agents Of Change
The change in Galper's trio approach blossomed fully on six subsequent Origin Records recordings with his West Coast Trio, featuring bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop. Two of those Origin Records recordings—Airegin
(2012) and O's Time
(2014)—stand as late-career masterpieces for Galper.
Given the decade and half of productivity and consistent excellence of the West Coast Trio, Galper's work with Marino and Mintz might seem a footnote, with only one album in the books. But that footnote becomes bigger and better with 2022's Invitation To Openness
, recorded in 2008 with Galper's east coast crew. This offering catches the threesome in fine form, opening with a eleven-plus minute take on Gershwin's "Embraceable You." This tune—in these hands— demonstrates just how beautiful odd beauty can be. This conventional (though superior; it is Gershwin) Great American Songbook tune goes to unexpected places—straight ahead at times, often aggressive, warped away from recognizability at others, surprises around every corner.
Galper's creative foundation comes, in part, from the straight ahead tradition, having served considerable time with trumpeter Chet Baker and alto saxophonists Cannonball Adderley and Phil Woods. But he also did a stint in saxophonist Sam Rivers' band, which must have nudged him further in the free direction than he might otherwise have gone. In his semi-retirement—over the course of time spent in the shed—he sounds completely free. Those of a religious persuasion might say "Let go and let God." Of Hal Galper we could say he "Let go and let rubato."
As with all of his rubato releases, Galper makes wise choices in jazz standards and Great American Songbook tunes on Invitation To Openness, exploring the permutations of the previously-mentioned Gershwin composition, pianist John Taylor's "Ambleside," Duke Ellington's "Take the Coltrane" and Charlie Parker's "Constellation," with four of his own distinctive tunes mixed in. All of this moves into exhilarating and unexpected territory, no matter how familiar the source material, in this a look back at the beginnings of Hal Galper's move into rubato.