Unlike most jazz pianists today, Bill Charlap doesn't treat the piano like a muscle car. Instead, Bill is at his best when he's gentle and tender, providing the listener with plenty of space to admire what he's doing with a song. Playing gentle isn't mousey. There's enormous complexity required by artists who force audiences to lean forward. Ahmad Jamal with his trio did this brilliantly in the 1950s. Same goes for trios led by George Shearing, Red Garland and Bill Evans. Allowing a glorious song to breathe requires the artist to stir up musical drama through storytelling, beauty and poise.
On his new trio album—Notes From New York (Impulse)—Bill chose terrific songs, half of which you rarely hear these days. Accompanied sensitively by bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (no relation), Bill turns sleeper songs into panting, sensual works. I especially love what Bill and the trio does with Make Me Rainbows (John T. Williams, Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman), Not a Care in the World (Vernon Duke and John Latouche), There Is No Music (Harry Warren and Ira Gershwin), Little Rascal on a Rock (Thad Jones) and Too Late Now (Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner).
Most people would be hard-pressed to hum the melodies of these tunes. As a result, much of what you hear on the album will sound brand new. Bill explores these songs to his heart's content, creating lovely and lively interpretations without tripping into iconic versions in his unconscious ear. Bill is completely liberated here, and we hear him in the rough, exhibiting exquisite taste.
Personally, I've heard enough of I Remember April, A Sleepin' Bee and On the Sunny Side of the Street to last a lifetime. Many of these standards need to be retired. More important to me is Bill's catalog curiosity and composer scholarship that led him to choose these hidden treats. Too many new albums today are plagued by the same dog-eared standards, as if great American composers wrote only four songs each—or that the version put forward by the artist is going to blow all others away. [Photo above of the Bill Charlap Trio, from left, drummer Kenny Washington, pianist Bill Charlap and bassist Peter Washington]
On his new album, Bill proves there rich lodes of songbook and jazz book material if you know where to look and know how to leverage them. As for the album's liner notes by singer Carol Sloane, they are wonderfully informative, providing the history of each tune. Carol, of course, is no stranger to great songs way off the beaten path.
With Peter Washington and Kenny Washington by his side, Bill Charlap continues to hit new highs of sensitivity and intelligence. I can't wait to hear what he discovers next.
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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