Album of the Week: Charles Chen, ‘Charles, Play!’

Pianist Charles Chen explores the serious and fun side of play on his impressive debut album, Charles, Play!

Based in Cupertino, California, Charles Chen has stood out as a key presence in the Bay Area’s music scene for the past 15 years. He has graced renowned venues and festivals, showcasing his musical prowess as a pianist. Beyond his musical endeavors, Chen is also a magician and holds a position as a software engineer at Microsoft. His recently unveiled debut album, titled Charles, Play!, unveils a captivating fusion of seriousness and enjoyment in his approach to jazz music.

In an official statement, Chen conveys, “Play is a test for our imagination abilities, and although we can play alone, it’s much more fulfilling and interesting to play in a group.” Collaborating with esteemed artists like Ralph Moore on tenor saxophone, Peter Washington on bass, and Kenny Washington on drums, Chen attains a personal milestone by featuring some of his favorite jazz musicians on the album.

Charles, Play! serves as a realization of Chen’s musical aspirations, incorporating compelling compositions, danceable arrangements, and dynamic solos. It mirrors the thematic essence of play, serving as a crossroads of diverse influences. For example, the track “Peter and the Big Bad Wolf” draws inspiration from Sergei Prokofiev’s menacing “wolf” theme and the iconic Art Blakey shuffle. The album pays homage to luminaries like Benny Golson and Frédéric Chopin, contributing to a rich musical tapestry.

Charles, Play! effortlessly navigates through varied musical realms, smoothly transitioning from a heartfelt rendition of the renowned ballad “These Foolish Things” to the exhilarating pace of “Swing State.” Embracing the sonic possibilities of its jazz quartet configurations, the album sporadically weaves elements from genres such as classical music and the bossa nova. Beyond showcasing Chen’s pianistic expertise, the record stands as a testament to the joy of collective musical creation. Celebrating the sound of its jazz quartet configuration, it attests to the harmonious collaboration among talented musicians and the vibrant energy emanating from their collective play.

Charles Chen’s new album, Charles, Play!, is available now. Order it here.

Featured photo courtesy of the artist.

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