Recorded Dec. 17, 1996 in Brooklyn, NY, USA
Bill Charlap attracted the attention of Phil Woods during a 1994 jazz cruise, so it's no surprise that the veteran saxophonist snapped him up the second there was a vacancy on the piano bench in his quintet. This trio session, with bassist Sean Smith and drummer Bill Stewart, gives one a great opportunity to hear the inventiveness, passion, and intense ability to swing that makes Charlap one of the top musicians of his generation. The program is a cut above the usual play list, starting with two brilliant interpretations of standards, including a dancing "While We're Young" and an introspective "Last Night When We Were Young." Jim Hall's "Bon Ami" is not one of his better-known works, but Charlap's crisp approach to this soft speaking tune should grab anyone's attention. The pianist contributed the tense post-bop miniature "Starlight," while "Distant Star" is a brief, very captivating free improvisation by the trio. In addition to his superb work on bass, Smith composed the subtle but twisting theme "'39 World's Fair," while Stewart's brushwork is an important ingredient to this highly recommended CD. An additional bonus is provided by Phil Woods' hip, very enthusiastic liner notes.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
I awakened in a cold sweat! The headline from the new down beat screamed in my skull! "Acid Jazz! Where the past and the future collide!" Hip-Hop Be-Bop! A dream or a nightmare come true? But it was only a bad dream! I smiled to myself and thought of musicians. People like Jon Gordon and Nicholas Payton, Jessie Davis and Vincent Herring. My smile changed to a wide-mouthed grin as I pondered veterans like Jackie Mac and Big Jim Mac and Milt Jackson and Tommy Father Flanagan, Cedar Walton, Mulgrew Miller and Kenny Barron. You can add the names of Bill Charlap, Sean Smith and Bill Stewart to the list. They toil in the same humble but fertile vineyards as the masters and although the wine is young it is made with care and love. It can be drunk young, but it also ages well and is sometimes better when allowed to mature in the bottle. Bill Charlap is maturing very nicely thank you! This is grand cruse stuff!
I became aware of Bill from his work with Jon Gordon's group on the 1994 SS Norway Jazz cruise. I love to watch people when they play music. I like to try to see what role they might assume in the enfolding drama of an improvised moment. To me Bill's sense of focus was apparent and astounding! He was hunched over the piano, his head hung inches from the keyboard and he was in the veritable entrails of the instrument and the music - like Bill Evans I thought - and his lyrical way with standard tunes was remarkable for one so young (Bill is now 30). Bill's Mom is Sandy Stewart, a fine singer with whom I used to work during the New York studio days and Bill's Dad was Moose Charlap who gave us, among other jewels, the score of Peter Pan. And to top it all off, Bill's step-Dad is a fine trumpet player. So the lad was raised right!
1. Along The Way. Fittingly, the album begins with . a Jon Gordon tune. I remember seeing both of them whenever the Quintet played a club in New York. Serious jazz people, even then, when they were still in high school. Jon's tune is silky and flowing and Bill C. quickly puts his stamp on the odd but lovely structure. Sean Smith's solo is on the mark. Lyrical and beautiful - leading us logically to the closing material. Sean understands! He also happens to be one of our most promising young composers.
2. While We're Young. This is a nice treatment of a good Wilder tune -bright 3/4 with a nice reharmo-nization and a compound feel - not easy to pull off but very effortless here. Bill C. stretches out on this and his solo is seamless! An appropriate bass statement by Sean completes the trip. I knew Alec Wilder from Jim & Andy days. He would have loved this! By the way, Andy was a cat!
3. Last Night When We Were Young. This reminds me of Bill's first trip with the Quintet when we put this tune in the book - talk-through's on the autobahn during the agonizingly long trips and moments stolen at hotel lobby pianos where you really find out if a cat has the fire in the belly - and not even Tagement will quell this cat's fire! Bill has a wonderful ability to quickly learn complex harmony and intricate melody. This reading of the Arlen classic is lovely. This is what music making is all about. The lads can play!
4. Here I'll Stay. In the pocket where the good groove times hang loose! Get it on Sean! Bill Stewart shows here, as elsewhere, what a great supporting role he can play in the demanding trio format. Like Bill Goodwin he plays the song! Bill Charlap shows his membership in the Good-Tune Club and his solo is tasty indeed. Bill Stewart shows that he could sell a pair of brushes to Mr. Fuller himself! Smack dab in the middle of the beat! Just the way I like it! Smooth in - smooth out! Young smoothies indeed!
5. Distant Star. A collective free-improvisation - a welcome change for the pallet and the ears. You can tell that these musicians have not only worked together, they have lived together, and their group instincts are very sharp. Charlapian energy transforms this into a nice, tight piece of work. A good demonstration of disparate elements uniting in a new and fresh way. Yes - by all means - on to the stars - the only place to go!
6. Bon Ami. A choice Jim Hall piece, well played by all. Comfortable but with an edge, it reminds me of the Nat Cole trio in spirit. But it is pure Charlap - I would know him anywhere - I hear him! I know him! I see him! And he is into it, Jack! The Fuller brush man is back and is sand-dancing on this one. Sean's chick-a-tee booms are neatly placed as Mr. Charlap puts some cut in our strut on home.
7. '39 World's Fair. This is Sean's bright 6/4 salute to the scene of the Triangle and the Ball. The harmony and shape of this piece is a delight to behold but you have to stand back to see it. Don't get too close! Bill's solo shows us the way while Sean takes a path less well traveled but just as thorny. Stewart sticks with sticks on this. The Blue note fade works well.
8. Starlight This is B. C.'s paean to musical beauty and formic good sense. The man must write more music! On my desk in the morning, sir!
9. Heather On The Hill. Bill closes with a solo reading of this great Lerner & Lowe classic. It is performed with care and love and is as delicious and comforting as an After Eight mint on a fresh pillow. Pour yourself a post prandial and listen to the young craftsmen carry the tradition of quality and truth forward! I am very proud to know all of these guys!
- Phil Woods (Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. April 8, 1997)