Jeff RUPERT & Richard DREXLER – Imagination – MediaRupe 016 CD, 57:52 (1/2/17) ****:

(Jeff Rupert; tenor sax/ Richard Drexler; piano)

Two University of Central Florida instructors go deep into a mid-80s Stan Getz bag.

It was John Coltrane himself who famously said of his contemporary/rival Stan Getz, “Let’s face it. We would all sound like that if we could.”  As it turned out, Coltrane had the more numerous imitators and followers, yet the Getz sound has not lost its magic, nor has the critical esteem for his supreme lyrical gifts waned. They represent nearly unattainable ideals within the jazz tradition.

Thus, it is all the more surprising to come upon an Orlando-based musician who has mastered down to the details this style and can pass for a persuasive facsimile of Mr. Getz himself on “Imagination,” a duet with fellow University of Central Florida music program instructor Richard Drexler.

The live performance takes place at the White House, an Orlando institution founded by Cirque du Soleil musical director Benoit Glazer. In front of an appreciative crowd, Rupert steps up to the mike and delivers a most exacting personification of Getz at his best on “Without a Song.” Sustained notes contain the signature vibrato, bordering on the indulgent. There is elegant ornamentation aplenty, and long sinuous lines spun out with legato warmth. The piano stands a bit recessed and keeps a firm grasp on the rhythm. This is not the Getz from his bebop years with Oscar Peterson (referenced in the notes as an influence), nor is it the preening and pretty voice of the bossa nova years. It is specifically the mid ‘80s vintage Getz, heard on a half dozen Concord recordings. At over eight minutes, inspiration lags here and there, but the overall feeling is one of a calm communication of beauty by equally attuned partners.

Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It” follows. Pianist Richard Drexler demonstrates his superb separation of hands on a loquacious solo. His busy accompaniment recalls one of the Getz partners, Jim McNeely. With a treatment like this, the tune is readily admitted into the American Songbook. On “Snowfall,” a Claude Thornhill tune, simplicity in the piano supports a solo which gently strays into Debussy-Ravel melodic territory. It is an affecting piece throughout.

“Strange Meadowlark” is a stiff Brubeck tune. Another longish medium tempo ramble might induce some eyes to glaze over. I use the occasion to examine Mr. Rupert’s sound on headphones, noticing in the process that he spills more air than his mentor. I also notice that he possesses an infallible melodic intuition, never initiating a bad note or sloppy phrase.

The highlight of a very good record is the Jobim chart “A Felicidade.”  Even as they invokes the most Getzian repertoire, the duo sounds most original on this tune. Richard Drexler manages to keep the piece lean and focused while his right hand flies deftly over the sumptuous whole notes of the tenor.

A Rupert original follows. Will it be used to escape the Getz influence? Not quite, but there is un-Getzian feeling of tentativeness; one can almost hear the thinking. The piano solo is long and digressive. The saxophone carves up the fog in dazzling melodic shapes. This is a majestic display of chops, to be sure, but also one that conveys a feeling of emotional detachment.

The record ends very strongly on the sturdy Mal Waldron tune “Soul Eyes.” The longest track of all, and again glacially slow, it shows off the best features of both players: their rapport, concentration and attentiveness to melodic and expressive detail. If folks at the White House have drifted off, it is into the dreams of paradise.

These Orlando musicians are especially fine performers. Taking this recital as evidence of their reach and grasp of the jazz heritage, they must be truly outstanding instructors and purveyors of the jazz tradition at CFU. Highly recommended!

TrackList: Without a Song; I Can’t help It; Snowfall; Strange Meadowlark; Imagination; A Felicidade; My Mistress’ Eyes; Soul Eyes;

—Fritz Balwit