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Bill Charlap Trio with Peter Washington, Kenny Washington: Written in the Stars

Charlap’s debut as a leader on Blue Note contains no single riveting performance from him like “Turnaround” on Souvenir (Criss Cross) or “Take the Bullet Train” on Sean Smith’s Live (Chiaroscuro). Rather, throughout, the pianist brings to bear subtlety, technique, taste and wisdom out of proportion to his 33 years. It is a collection that seems, at first, placid by comparison with his earlier albums. Yet Charlap and his remarkably attuned trio mates, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, invest every track with attributes that arrest the attention of the close listener. Years of playing together have evolved perfection in their musical balance and interaction. The evidence is everywhere on this CD.

Charlap’s musicianship reveals more of itself with each hearing of these pieces. Addressing 11 standard songs, he applies the perfect tempo and trio dynamic to each one and reaches into the harmonies for the right note or chord at the right time, without haste, waste or attempts to prove his hipness. The melodies he creates have life and permanence. His touch equals the nuance and sureness of Tommy Flanagan and Jimmy Rowles. No matter how softly he strikes them, his tones in the upper register have the clarity of crystal. His style draws from the full range of jazz piano history. He incorporates, but does not telegraph, Rowles eccentricities rarely attempted by other pianists. They include chordal splashes and scrunched arpeggios that bring the piano as close as it can come to bent notes.

Charlap’s demanding arrangement of “Blue Skies” is the most striking demonstration of the trio’s virtuosity. His treatment of “Dream” shows that space and restraint are essential ingredients in their unity and suggests that modern jazzmen have overlooked Johnny Mercer’s simple little song as a framework for improvisation. Charlap revives the Gershwins’ “Lorelei” and Harold Arlen’s “It Was Written in the Stars,” revisits the Cole Porter rarity “Where Have You Been?” and plays a gorgeous solo tribute to the memory of his composer father, Moose Charlap, in “I’ll Never Go There Anymore.”

Originally Published