Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bill Charlap - Live at the Village Vanguard

You'd think that in 2007 it would be hard for a jazz pianist, working in a standard trio format, playing primarily standards and tunes by well known jazz composers, in a largely conventional manner, to find a new niche in the sonic landscape, a personal sound. Well, Bill Charlap certainly has done that. It may not have been easy, Charlap is just now finally enjoying the kind of acclaim that many lesser pianists got in the 1990's "young lion" era, and Bill is doing it at a much older age.

There's something fresh about Bill's playing; his fleet right hand lines that would make Bud Powell (at his best) proud, and the percussive attack of his left hand that brings to mind everyone from Monk to Silver to Brubeck, while sounding like none of them. And then there's his trio, Peter and Kenny Washington, bass and drums, both understated masters, maybe the best of their generation at what they do, as tight of a rhythm section as you'll find.

Unlike many of those "young lions" who got the big record deals, magazine covers and Brooks Brothers contracts in the 90's, Charlap never sounds like he's ripping off the style of any of the master pianists who he certainly is a big fan of. He truly has a personal sound, and this new CD captures it as well as I've heard on any of his records. The Village Vangaurd may not have been made to be the defintive recording spot for the top piano/bass/drums trios in jazz, but it sure has become just that. Add Charlap's name to the lofty list of excellent trio recordings to come out of the famed basement jazz venue.

Tony Bennett called Charlap "the next Bill Evans." That's high praise, especially coming from Tony, who worked with Bill and knows a thing or two about piano players. Maybe it's unfair to Charlap, in the same way that the critics who said Cannonball was "the next Bird" were being unfair. But if you look at it as a vote of confidence in Charlap's musicality and talent, it makes sense.

RIYL: Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Barry Harris, Bud Powell

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