Pianist Hal Galper’s signature style involves bending and stretching pieces as far as they can go in the rubato style, and fully exploring where that strategy leads. For his sixth recording built on that approach, he again comes up with intriguing results, with the help of longtime collaborators Jeff Johnson and John Bishop on bass and drums, respectively.
The trio’s interpretations present an ever-engaging clash of form and freedom, with Charlie Chaplin’s familiar but welcome “Smile” among the highlights. Surging and receding, the song’s melody emerges over rambunctious rhythm-section scrambling before shifting to Galper’s fierce, speedy solo. The pianist relaxes momentarily, restating the theme. Then Bishop takes over, going it alone before his compatriots creep back into the head for a hard-hitting final splashdown.
John Coltrane’s “Like Sonny” opens the disc with a dash of melancholy. Galper sketches the chiming melody, plying an explorative improvisation over the changes, ceding the center to Johnson’s rubbery volleys, and eventually, winding down for a mellow reprise of the theme. The remaining four tracks offer similar pleasures, with the trio unearthing unexpected textures from varied sources. Johnson, in particular, shines as he careens through long falls and delivers quick chordal slides on a steadily percolating read of Wayne Shorter’s “Wildflower.” Galper salutes free-jazz innovator and saxophonist Ornette Coleman with his title composition, which is buoyed by long, sprawling piano phrases and spurts of driving rhythm. Here, and throughout, Galper and his cohorts think and play as one, and they make it all sound so easy. —Philip Booth