This is the sort of album that gives the mainstream a good name. It's wonderfully recorded, especially at the low end of the spectrum: Peter Washington's bass and Kenny Washington's kick drum speak with authority yet never overwhelm Charlap's piano. The trio's approach is distinctive, marked by tight and fairly elaborate arrangements, thrilling shifts in tempo, and wholly surprising modulations and harmonic choices on Charlap's part. The overall classicism of the group's sound recalls Tommy Flanagan. Charlap is at his most animated on the opener, a brisk reading of Cole Porter's "In the Still of the Night." He's more laid-back and deliberate on midtempo tracks like Johnny Mercer's "Dream" and the Gershwins' "Lorelei," where the Washingtons' bone-deep sense of swing really comes to the fore. Another, even more contemplative side of Charlap comes out on an achingly slow "One for My Baby" and a pair of Harold Arlen tunes, "The Man That Got Away" and "It Was Written In the Stars." However, the most comprehensive and bracing showcases of Charlap's talent are Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" and Frank Loesser's "Slow Boat to China." Setting up the Berlin tune with the seldom-played introductory verse, Charlap then crafts a contrapuntal head arrangement that recalls early McCoy Tyner. After a round of concise and inventive solos, Charlap restates the melody in the original key of F minor, but then modulates to E minor for the concluding A section. (The pop cliche is to modulate up a half-step, not down.) The trio then vamps on a bluesy G7 tonality before wrapping up with a decorative coda. Analogous surprises also crop up during "Slow Boat to China." Charlap takes the melody at a medium tempo and then moves through a series of shifting chords before launching into a faster tempo for the solos. He plays the tune in B flat, but takes the second half of his final chorus in D - a seemingly random event. Then he returns to B flat for the first half of the out melody, halves the tempo, and modulates to A major (again, down a half-step) to finish the song. All this is to say that Charlap is an uncommonly imaginative arranger, not to mention a great player. He's also unusually resourceful in terms of repertoire. Arlen, Porter, Gershwin, Mercer, Rodgers and Hart: These are all big-name songwriters, but Charlap astutely picks some of their lesser-known songs. And speaking of lesser-known songs, Charlap also offers a moving tribute to his late father, Broadway composer Moose Charlap, with a solo piano rendition of "I'll Never Go There Anymore." This is perhaps the clearest example of how Charlap invests his material with a genuinely personal touch.
- David R. Adler (All Music Guide)
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Jazz is a matter of discovery. For the player, it's the discovery of a voice speaking through an instrument, finding nuggets of technique and uncharted pathways through the changes of a tune in the process. For the listener, it's the discovery of artists and repertoire that transcend the normal sensory experience and bore into one's soul. I personally have a very long list of tunes and artists that reside permanently inside of me, and yet I'm always happy to accept a new tenant.
I first discovered Bill Charlap in a small theater on 44th Street where I had gone to see some friends performing in the perennial New York Christmas tradition, "The Jazz Nativity." My friends were excellent. Bill Charlap was phenomenal. In the midst of a very structured program, rife with formidable talent, Bill shone as brightly as the Eastern Star pursued by the be-bop Magi. In the ensuing months, as fan, friend and collaborator, I discovered something else. What has always seemed evident to me in working with and listening to great vocalists is the absence of pretense and an unadulterated truthfulness in their delivery. Bill has this ability as a player. He tells musical stories-many oft told-in ways lyrically rich and emotionally captivating, with the freshness of passionate discovery, while showing ultimate respect for the material. And... that's the truth!