Live at the Village Vanguard
Blue Note Records
The fact that Bill Charlap has gotten a lot of attention in recent years creates hope that jazz might truly be a meritocracy. Charlap doesn’t have dreadlocks, and his playing lacks newsworthy eccentricities that would make him easy for critics to characterize. All Charlap has going for him is exceptional musicianship.
In the unlikely event that you don’t own any Bill Charlap albums, buy this one first. It is (surprisingly) his first live recording. The famous acoustics of the Village Vanguard are beautifully leveraged by Joel Moss (who produced, engineered and mixed it). Studio albums can be valuable approximations of the jazz experience. Live recordings this good put you in the presence of the real thing.
The uptempo celebrations such “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “My Shining Hour” (whipped into double-time by the brushes of Kenny Washington) get the loudest reaction from the Vanguard audience. Speed and complexity do not degrade Charlap’s innate formal elegance, nor his glistening touch on every individual note.
But the most permanent pieces are the ballads. Charlap likes to slow some songs down until they float, out of time, and he can wonder over them (“Autumn in New York,” Jim Hall’s “All Across the City,” “Last Night When We Were Young”). They are unabashed romanticism arrayed upon erudite musical frameworks.