Jimmy Halperin/Dominic Duval/Jay Rosen: Joy & Gravitas (2004)
In these crowded days of creative improvised music, a musician can sometimes wait years to make his or her recorded mark. Jimmy Halperin arguably fits under this late bloomer category. Strong dates with Warne Marsh and Sal Mosca were slow in parlaying his own sessions as leader. His trio debut for Cadence Jazz, Cycle-logical, came like a welcome gust of fresh creative air. A live concert, it carried the ambience of a séance with the saxophonist mystically channeling the spirits of Tristano and Marsh. The latter man had a seminal hand in shaping his approach both directly and by way of pianist and fellow Tristanoite Mosca. Halperin's horn may have spoken in the vernacular of those mentoring ghosts, but phrases were uttered in his own dialect. Here he isn't the least bit shy about cranking the intensity knobs on his horns, trading Cool school credentials for free-bop ones. Compared to that earlier disc this CIMP debutwith a decidedly different rhythm section in towfeels more like an exorcism at first blush.
A big factor in the success of Halperin's chosen shift to freer forms of expression lies in the reliable team of Duval and Rosen. The two share a longstanding musical repartee honed over nearly a hundred sessions. Halperin's approach is no-nonsense (the gravitas of the title?) and there are moments where the tunes are treated more like vehicles for his fecund ideas, than discrete entities imbued with their own charms. Urgency sometimes comes at the expense of finesse.
Case in point: the opening reading of "Night in Tunisia," which sounds both exhilarating and a bit perfunctory through the trio's reimagining. Halperin manhandles the familiar melody, milking it for new nectar by voicing the first few notes legato and spitting the last couple out at a breakneck pace. These minor changes achieve alchemy similar to Dexter Gordon's interpretation on Our Man in Paris, both versions tailoring the tune to the athletic idiosyncrasies of the expositor. Rosen references some of Blakey's bombast and pounds his kit mercilessly while Duval sticks to a narrow space of ostinato clusters. Halperin gives Wayne Shorter's "Witch Hunt" a serious workout too, disassembling the serpentine head with soprano and investigating the constituent parts Lacy-style. Kenny Barron's "Voyage" erupts as a full-bore blowout, raucous tenor riding a frothing wall of rhythmic surf stirred up by Rosen's gesticulating sticks.
"Love for Sale" and "My Funny Valentine" are similarly far removed from their usually mellow ballad guises. Halperin attacks the former with serrated soprano, sawing to the melodic bone with pointed snake charmer trills. His tenor is equally relentless on the latter. Two takes of "Don't Explain" offer additional juxtapositions of Halperin's two horns in mellower surroundings. Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic," which receives an inexplicable diss from producer Bob Rusch in the liners, sounds oddly like a Vandermark Spaceways, Inc. cover. The saxophonsist closes with a quick and quirky solo sign-off via "Round Midnight" that leaves a silence ripe with the anticipatory ache for future music.
Track Listing: Night in Tunisia/ Witch Hunt/ Voyage/ Love For Sale/ My Funny Valentine/ Plazma/ Don't Explain (take 1)/ Naima/ Don't Explain (take 2)/ Spanish Castle Magic/ 'Round Midnight.
Personnel: Jimmy Halperin- tenor & soprano saxophones; Dominic Duval- bass; Jay Rosen- drums. Recorded: January 14 & 15, 2004, Rossie, NY.