Bill Charlap Trio
Live at the Village Vanguard
For his first five albums as a Blue Note artist, this calm yet commanding pianist headed into the studio with concepts in tow – creating, among other things, tributes to songwriting titans Hoagy Carmichael and Leonard Bernstein. For Blue Note album number six, Charlap descends has joined the ranks of musicians proudly boasting the same album title – Live at the Village Vanguard. Not only is Charlap on a level deserving of this lofty rite of passage, but the recording may well be his best to date, in terms of giving an accurate depiction of the flowing musicality he brings to live shows.
On this date, a sense of the room and the city rise subtly to the surface as the trio falls into “Autumn in New York” and “All Across the City.” On the latter, Charlap gets to one of his signature time-stilling moments, making each well-placed note count on Jim Hall’s cerebrally lyrical beauty of a ballad.
For this balanced hour-long set, Charlap plays the extremes smartly, from Gerry Mulligan’s medium-turned-fast swinger “Rocker” to the uptempo bop energies on “The Lady is a Tramp” and “My Shining Hour.” Charlap lays into the fat-grooved folds of George Wallington’s “Godchild” and ends tenderly, with a wistful “Last Night When We Were Young.” Throughout, he plays with restraint, virtuosic bursts, and alertness to the moment. It helps, of course, that this is very much a trio affair. Nimble bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenneth Washington add greatly to the ensemble, a piano trio in the grand tradition, without apology.
Clearly among the finest pianists on the scene, Charlap boasts a nuanced touch, melodic ingenuity, and an ability to burn – but in sparing doses. He continues to give “mainstream” jazz piano a good name.
- Josef Woodard