Happy New Year! Returning from our holiday trip after being on the Dutch and German highways for over six hours, the first thing I did yesterday was putting on the new Blue Note vinyl by pianist Bill Charlap called “Street Of Dreams”. And boy what a relief this album is. It somehow almost got overlooked during the pre-Christmas frenzy and it immediately relaxes you after the first few bars. Bill’s playing has become so elegant and indelibly soothing over the years. He always shone brightest in small groups, like on the duet album with Warren Vaché “2gether” (2001) or with bassist Michael Moore on the Concord Duo series album from 1995. And then of course his very lyrical playing has partly been honed on various projects with different singers like Carol Sloane, Trudy Desmond, Sandy Stewart, Tony Bennett, or Freddie Cole.
The way he smoothly grooves into Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke” on the album opener actually reminds me of the late great Tommy Flanagan. His longtime pals are Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington (no relation) on drums and together, they simply create magic. The three come up with a wonderfully down-to-earth version of the Billy Strayhorn classic “Day Dream” and also make magic on the classic Legrand/Bergman ballad “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?”, taking out the drama a bit and changing the mood to uber-sensitive and melancholic.
I really dig the fact that Bill chose not the obvious standards, but rather opted for lesser-known tunes, like the Burton Lane/Alan Jay Lerner ode “You’re All The World To Me”. Swinging like hell on this one, Peter’s bass runs through this like a rollercoaster ride, augmented by the steady backbeat of Kenny’s drums. Bill knows how to keep the momentum with little rolls and rings here and there. It is pure joy to listen to this.
Broadway composer Frank Loesser is honored here with a piece from “Guys And Dolls”, but again not the obvious choice (“Traveling Light” or “Luck Be A Lady”), but with the more intimate “I’ll Know”. What a wonderful way of telling a story. The seldom-heard Kenny Burrell piece “Your Host” opens side 2 of this superb LP with more subtle swinging and a pretty vast range on the keys.
I remember seeing Bill play live at New York’s Knickerbocker Bar & Grill at University Place several years ago. And even though the place was packed, loud, and filled with all kinds of noise, he was somehow able to draw you into his world, completely shutting up all the background stuff. It is a pretty special capability that he has perfected over the years. Latest proof is this new album which, by the way, sounds excellent, thanks to James Farber and Mark Wilder who recorded and mixed the album at Sear Sound in New York, with mastering done at Battery Studios. Bill leaves us with the title track, composed by Victor Young and Samuel M. Lewis, conveying optimism and hope with subtle exuberance and slightly little accompanying fun.