Monday, October 1, 2018

Jeff Rupert & Richard Drexler's R&D

Example #2,776 of how not to judge an album by its cover--I give you saxophonist Jeff Rupert and pianist Richard Drexler's R&D. Maybe it's Drexler's long ZZ Top-style beard, or the dark, smoky black and white photo on the cover, but when I first looked at this CD I thought one thing, and that's blues. You know, rough-and-tumble jazz with an edge, with maybe an all-electric ensemble that included one or more guitar players who really knows how to shred, within the parameters of jazz of course. What I didn't expect was this thoughtful, somewhat introspective live album, recorded at the Timucua Arts White House back in 2015. It's just the two men, veterans in the jazz world, playing a handful of standards with uncommon chemistry. It's an intimate performance, with a small but enthusiastic audience present, and it's one of those crystalline moments in jazz that's not just about a piano and a tenor saxophone. It's about the men behind the instruments and how they interact with each other and the rest of the world.

This is one of those splendid live performances that's so much more than tone. These two men have been playing together since the 1980s, and they are completely comfortable in each other's company. Both have played with the greats--Rupert has worked with Maynard Ferguson, Bob Berg and Kenny Drew Jr., and Drexler has played with Mose Allyson, Tony Bennett, George Benson, Diahann Carroll, Vic Damone, Amy Grant and Al Jarreau. Rupert's better known as the founder of Flying Horse records, and director of the Flying Horse Band from the University of Central Florida. I've reviewed two of their albums: Big Man on Campus and The Bat Swings!. Drexler is also part of the faculty at UCF.

It's a pleasure to hear these two musicians apart from their usual big band surroundings. This is the type of recording I usually hear from the likes of 2L Recordings, that deep sense of being able to walk among these two performers and hear their human presences deliver this wonderful music. Rupert has a soft, breathy way with his sax, full of the personal mechanisms that are usually associated with greats such as Stan Getz. Drexler's piano is lush and emotive, and his reach across the keys is impressive in its agility. They share their space with an enormous amount of vivaciousness, always sensitive to what the other is feeling. In other words, this is an ideal recording for gauging that aforementioned chemistry, that magic that only happens between old friends.

Was I disappointed that this album was so different than what I expected? No, I was delighted. I'm listening to this on a cold, rainy day, that time of the year when we can finally say that summer is gone and now we can look forward to another deep winter in Western New York. This is yet another wonderful and simple recording that begs you to move closer and dig around, to bask in the closeness and yes, the love these two performers have for each other, the music and the audience.

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