In 2002, Bill Charlap and his trusty trio mates, Peter and Kenny Washington (no relation), released their second Blue Note CD, a centennial tribute to the music of Hoagy Carmichael, to considerable critical acclaim. Here the trio turns its attention and remarkable talents to the music of the inimitable Leonard Bernstein, with selections from West Side Story, On the Town, Wonderful Town, Candide, and Fancy Free. Bernstein was no stranger to jazz, and West Side Story has previously been mined by more than a dozen jazz musicians, including Stan Kenton, Bill Barron, Marian McPartland, Oscar Peterson, Andre Previn, Buddy Rich, and Cal Tjader.
Charlap, son of singer Sandy Stewart, who toured with Benny Goodman and the late composer Moose Charlap, who wrote much of the music for Broadway’s Peter Pan in the ‘50s, grew up to the accompaniment of show tunes, and his attraction to and love for the genre have been apparent throughout his career. Charlap’s prodigious technique allows him to play anything his muse imagines, and his creativity, lyricism, and the rapport he shares with the Washingtons, both superb jazz musicians in their own right, combine to make this one of the premier trios working today.
The album is nicely paced, with dash and spice from the West Side Story selections (the edgy “Cool,” frenetic “Jump,” and rhythmically intoxicating “America”) interspersed with lush ballads (“Lonely Town,” “Some Other Time,” and “Somewhere”). “Lucky to Be Me” swings gently; “It’s Love” is brisk and up-tempo (listen for the “Polkadots and Moonbeams” quote); the harmonically quirky “Glitter and Be Gay” (at 7 ½ minutes, the longest selection) is pensive and poignant; “Ohio,” wry, bluesy and nostalgic; the lovely waltz “A Quiet Girl,” much too brief. The trio plays with such taste, nuance and sensitivity to Bernstein’s intent that one can almost hear the lyrics, as each selection is played.
It’s a “piece o’ cake” to say that Somewhere is the next jewel in Bill Charlap’s crown, and to predict that this 37-year-old has as bright a future as any pianist on the jazz spectrum.
Track Listing: Cool; Lucky to Be Me; It
Personnel: Bill Charlap (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Kenny Washington (drums)