I wrote this review of the Bill Charlap Trio’s new album, Notes From New York, which appears (slightly abridged) in the May issue of DownBeat. Here’s the full review.
Bill Charlap Trio: Notes From New York
Maybe it’s because he’s the son of a famous songwriter (Moose Charlap of Peter Pan fame), but nobody respects a songwriter’s intentions more than Bill Charlap. The universe of pianists who treat a tune with his kind of reverence, yet can also perform the kind of musical exegesis on it that Charlap does, is essentially limited to Charlap himself. He’s often described as the epitome of mainstream pianists, in the tradition of iconic players from Art Tatum to Ahmad Jamal to Hank Jones. But the term “mainstream” becomes meaningless when one considers the technical mastery, the subtlety of his feel, his risk-taking arrangements, and his unflagging melodic and harmonic invention – or should we say, re-invention.
Fresh from the critical and popular triumph of The Silver Lining, his Jerome Kern tribute with Tony Bennett, the new album with his finely calibrated trio (Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums) is his first for the newly revived Impulse! label. It delivers nine standards, only three of which are widely familiar (“I’ll Remember April,” “A Sleepin’ Bee,” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street”). The rest of the program is devoted to more obscure but delightful songs from the worlds of Broadway, film and jazz.
The title and album art couldn’t be more appropriate: Charlap is a quintessential New Yorker from a celebrated show business family, and his light touch and ultra-cool arrangements are the very embodiment of Manhattan sophistication and elegance. The cubist-inspired album cover perfectly captures the esthetic of Charlap’s approach, at once retro and modern.
The album is a master class in class. The opening track, “I’ll Remember April,” arranged to a fare-thee-well, is alone worth the price of the album. Starting with its intro, in which Charlap manipulates our perception of where the bar line lies, he plays with time and re-harmonizes the song in continually surprising ways. “Make Me Rainbows,” a nearly forgotten John Williams movie song, is a mid-tempo swinger that includes a leisurely two-bar rest for the entire trio, a silent stretch that feels so long you could rotate your tires. Other highlights include Thad Jones’ bouncy, unpredictable “Little Rascal On A Rock,” and a joyous excursion into bebop a la Bird with “Tiny’s Tempo,” which affords both Washingtons the luxury of stretching out in typically tasteful style.
Saving the best for last, Charlap’s solo-piano interpretation of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” challenges our notions of this most familiar song. Charlap plays it very slowly and thoroughly revamps its harmony, turning it into a wistful tone poem loaded with nostalgia for a bygone, more carefree era when such an optimistic song might be cheerily performed at a more sprightly tempo. The air of haunted regret will stay with you long after the last perplexing chord rings out.
Notes From New York: I’ll Remember April; Make Me Rainbows; Not A Care In The World; There Is No Music; A Sleepin’ Bee; Little Rascal On A Rock; Too Late Now; Tiny’s Tempo; On The Sunny Side Of The Street (54:01)
Personnel: Bill Charlap, piano; Peter Washington, double bass; Kenny Washington, drums.
Ordering info: http://www.impulse-label.com