Hal Galper: Furious Rubato
The new recording from pianist Hal Galper, with double-bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop, initially conjures to mind the free improvisations of Cecil Taylor, Don Pullen with Charles Mingus, McCoy Tyner with John Coltrane, and Miles Davis, whose "Milestones and "Miles Ahead appear among these eight tracks.
Mr. Galper plays orchestral piano, utilizing the full range of his instrument to interpret the music and infuse it with energy and virility. Mr. Johnson, a veteran member of Galper's trio during the 90's, and Mr. Bishop prove ideal compliments. The group's chemistry is strong: a combination of skilled jazz pros (with dozens of recordings to each man's credit) loaded with technical ability and sympathetic in spirit.
That spirit, what makes Furious Rubato click, however, can be found in its title. Galper stretches time, squeezes harmony, and plays with elements of musical structure by beaming them into outer space and pulling them back, like the chief auditory officer on the Starship Rubato. Or Starship Picasso, since the traditional laws of artistic construction no longer apply. The transporter machine isn't fully operational in Rubato World, so you may end up with a nose where an eye should be, a stutter where a tempo should be, a mélange where a melody should be.
If you're keeping time at home, forget in front of the beat, behind the beat, or on the beat: the beat done met some friends on the corner and may or may not be back for a while, so relax baby.
The effect of Furious Rubato on the listener who is used to some semblance of order is panic, initially, followed by an extended period of mild frustration. Kind of like losing your keys but realizing that they must be somewhere in the house. When will you find them? When will the band get on the same page, note, beat? Eventually. But you've got to keep looking and listening.
In the meantime read the liner notes. They're a help, since Mr. Galper is one of those rare musicians who is also an experienced music educator, clinician and author. He does a fine job using words to throw light on the simplicities and complexities of music. So I'm inclined to believe his authoritative claim that the rubato playing on this disc swings, even without a rope.
He also suggests bending time as a beauty aid. Well, the ear of this behearer isn't so sure, but I will admit to enjoying the delicious symmetrical descent of melody that begins "Valse Cool and the insatiable blow-with-everything-you've-got force that mushrooms from "Other Days - both original compositions by Mr. Galper.
But beautiful? Perhaps "fascinating or "intriguing or "Galperlicious are more accurate descriptors of Furious Rubato.
Mr. Johnson, in the liner notes, refers to the trio's performance as "freedom with form. He goes on to explain: "We had to completely listen for what we should play, prepared to play anything and nothing at all times. How very Zen. Of course that's the title of track number 3. And don't forget to whack yourself on the forehead with a bamboo shoot while you're listening.
In fact, it's important to keep in mind that, like the members of this trio, many musicians have embarked on similar journeys in pursuit of freedom, including the musicians mentioned at the start of this review. One should note, however, that a far greater number of musicians have not and will not take such a perilous step. To do so is to unlearn what has taken a lifetime to learn, to toss out the book one's always played by, to catapult through chaos. To boldly go where few have gone before...
Tracks: Milestones; Valse Cool; Zen; Figurine; Chromatic Fantasy; Naima; Miles Ahead; Other Days.
Personnel: Hal Galper: piano; Jeff Johnson: bass; John Bishop: drums.