It’s as if Tommy Flanagan and Bill Evans are coming together as one and meet Hank Jones, each time that I hear pianist Bill Charlap play. The last time he was heard on record was on the brilliantly relaxed and elegant Tony Bennett album with the songs of Jerome Kern. I was lucky enough to hear him play in person various times – I still remember a gig at Manhattan’s Knickerbocker Bar & Grill at University Place where he managed to draw attention despite the unbelievably loud crowd in the room.
Bill’s musical mates are, once again, Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums (no relation). They have played together since 1997. And the nine numbers are swinging and flowing in cutely executed straight ahead fashion. On “Make Me Rainbows”, I could also hear some Oscar Peterson-isms. But the most important thing here is that here is a pianist who knows the Great American Songbook extremely well and that doesn’t only mean the vast amount of songs, but their words and intentions as well.
“Not A Care In The World”, the song made famous by the Benny Goodman Orchestra with a young Peggy Lee on vocals in 1942, is treated here as joyous and unapologetically humorous as Vernon Duke and John LaTouche most certainly wanted it to sound like. Bill also knows how to foster the art of the piano trio in ballads like the soothing and very pretty “There Is No Music” which has its melancholic moments, too. Here, Bill is almost talking through his hands on the keys. Highly enjoyable!
There is more perfect trio playing in “A Sleepin’Bee” and the Thad Jones composition “Little Rascal On A Rock”, which is a welcome change of topic or theme here with its uneven meter and structure. Bill Charlap has accompanied a lot of vocalists over the years, not only Tony Bennett as mentioned before. His mother is Sandy Stewart with whom he recorded some stunning sides and he also got together with Shirley Horn, who recorded the classic “Too Late Now” for her 1991 epic album “You Won’t Forget Me”. Bill revisits the song with a magical nine-minute masterpiece rendition.
Things are on the upswing again with “Tiny’s Tempo”, a funny little bebop ditty written by Tiny Grimes and even though I was a bit hesitant at first about the choice of using “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” as the album’s closer, or as one of the album’s songs per se, Bill convinced me here as well because he turned the tempo extremely down on this often-heard tune. And with this succeeding ballad version, all was good in the end.