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Bill Charlap: Duets

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Bill Charlap

Striking as he was on previous Hoagy Carmichael and Leonard Bernstein tributes, pianist Bill Charlap continues developing in subtlety and expressiveness, as evidenced by this adventure in Gershwin. Charlap swings as hard as he did in his heretofore best album, Distant Star (Criss Cross, 1997), but is light-years beyond it in artistic refinement, somehow managing to be at once elliptical and full-bodied, fleet and thoughtful, amusing and serious.

Charlap reminds one of Tommy Flanagan, Bill Evans and Bud Powell, but the inescapable stylistic comparison these days is with Jimmy Rowles. One can imagine Rowles applauding the student who understands his conception of touch, timing, chord placement, voicing and-mirabile dictu-integrates it into his own unmistakable style. Entering a solo in “Somebody Loves Me,” Charlap growls in the basement of the keyboard, then drops little harmonic cluster bombs to offset the melodies his right hand creates. It’s pure Rowles, and Charlap melds such reminders into his stunning work throughout the album, not in imitation but in tribute salted with humor.

The horn section-Phil Woods, Nicholas Payton, Frank Wess and Slide Hampton-plays Charlap’s crafty charts beautifully and stamp their solos with individuality. Charlap’s steady sidekicks, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, provide him perfect support, as always.