RUPE media: RM030117CD
Reviewed by Chris Baber
Jeff Rupert: saxophone; Richard Drexler: piano
Recorded June 10th and 11th 2015 by Kendall Thomson at the Timucua Arts White House, Orlando
This set follows their previous album ‘Imagination’ (taken from the same live sessions) and contains a selection of Standards. When I say that this includes songs from Oscar Hammerstein, Billy Strayhorn, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Jimmy van Heusen, Mal Waldron, George Duke, you realise that you are in the presence of real jazz cognoscenti. Both teach jazz and both have long careers playing as members of ensembles and orchestras of some the best known names in jazz (how about, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, Kenny Drew, for starters) and fronting bands (such as, The Flying Professors, Dirty Martini).
What is so touching about this recording is not the respect that they have for the tunes, nor the fact this live recording captures the easy facility of two people in total control of their instruments, but the easy familiarity of two people who played together for many years (since around the 1980s). What you also get here is some marvellously lyrical playing, rather like two old friends sharing the lyrics, musing on the various interpretations that these might have and finding the odd amusing anecdote in their reminiscences. There is an emotionally intensity in the way that Rupert works his saxophone, moving from a breathy, slightly overblown tone to a clear defined upper register, that suggests both a complete control of his instrument and an appreciation of the history of jazz that is most significant to him: when he plays a run or even a note that sounds ‘like’ (insert your name of choice here), then that is precisely because he is drawing you towards that sound. What I particularly liked is the way that he moved from these ‘quotations’ to sounds of his own, so that what you hear is an object lesson is jazz (from 1945 to 1965… as a rough guess), presented through the lens of someone who not only understands the music but can also show you the directions that it might have taken in some parallel universe.
Related to this is the way that Drexler plays the piano. For me, he sounds like someone who has been transported from the early 1940s into a much later period. This is meant to be a compliment: imagine a time machine taking your favourite pianist from playing stride to bebop – and imagine the ways in which their styles would merge and adapt. So, the compelling nature of Rupert’s and Drexler’s playing is this feeling of travelling through time – the fact that we are hearing this some fifty years after bop is irrelevant – they continue to show us the possible routes that jazz did not take, and what these could have offered.