by Raul da Gama
Jeff Rupert and pianist Richard Drexler shine in all their radiant creativity on Imagination. Creating an unmatched nimbleness of sound, though a stripped-down duet performance, the full and wholesome interaction of their magical dialogue is immediately evident. The ebullient arpeggios and brilliantly gilded glissandi played by Rupert mimic perfectly the melody lines of a singer, only in this instance the saxophone, in all its hushed tones and rounded edges recall the harkening of Lester Young and Stan Getz, as the brilliance of Rupert shines forth. The pianism of Drexler, is on full display. His impulse to adorn simple melodies makes him an equal partner in this glorious musical exposition.
The relationship of interplay is immediate. It’s unlikely that you will be anything but convinced of the unforgettable nature of this encounter for it is one that is sure to bring great fame to this music all over again. Imaginationis, primarily, a collection of melodically exquisite songs, beautifully crafted, with a combination of ingenious writing and inspired improvisation on the part of both saxophonist and pianist. The vitality and brilliance of each invention shines forth in the strongest and most appealing colors. The dynamic range and balance between the instruments is achieved by each artist, never seeming to tread on the other’s turf, which further demonstrates the respect and conversational appeal of this duo. It’s almost as if soloing is done in a series of highlights, the saxophone moves into the spotlight while piano is in the shadows; then switching roles as if by magic, so that the other instrumentalist is suddenly spotlighted.
The inspiration of course also comes from the memorable repertoire the duet has chosen. Rupert’s playing is particularly exquisite in the flowing tempo of “Snowfall” as the saxophonist sends up phrase after phrase of delicate notes, which gently nudge Drexler into a rarefied realm of his own. The quality of each artist’s playing is extraordinary, with both saxophone and piano falling into characterful soloing seemingly at the drop of a hat.
Everything is played in a silken way; easy on the ears and with the melody in mind. The ease of the tunes played only lends itself to the mastery of each player and the presentation. It is the curved edges of their playing that give the details in a harmonically pleasing presentation, with just the right amount of rhythmic attack thrown into the mix. Three outstanding examples of this invisible passing of the torch take place on Tom Jobim’s “A Felicidade,” Jeff Rupert’s Shakespearean ‘sonnet’, “My Mistress’ Eyes” and on the Mal Waldron classic “Soul Eyes.”
Rhythm, indeed, is strongly marked throughout, emphasizing the unforgettable individuality of both Rupert and Drexler’s singular voices on their instruments, while cohesively creating a group sound with only two players. But take note, it is the spaces along with the notes that lends itself to the overall achievement of pure subtlety, which can only be experienced with breathless excitement on this one day classic, that has been beautifully recorded live.