Bill Charlap Trio ‘Notes from New York’ (Impulse!) 4/5

bill-charlap-trioPianist Bill Charlap belongs to that generation of musicians who are as familiar with the Great American Songbook tradition as they are with contemporary songwriters, and in his case growing up with his artist parents exposed him to the classic songs from an early age. He has performed as a sideman with some of the greats including Tony Bennett, Wynton Marsalis and Phil Woods, but from the mid-late 1990s his principal focus has been that of trio leader and one that has remained pretty much constant with bassist Pete Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (unrelated).
A series of composer specific trio outings have been released via Japan as well as The United States and Europe (Bernstein notably for the latter two), but this latest release on the reactivated Impulse! label is testimony to the sensitivity of the leader and telepathy between the trio members. It is the ability to manipulate standard material at will, and yet still find new and innovative approaches that is a defining feature of the trio. Throughout the tone is understated and when the ensemble sound is this good, why need to blow away the listener with endless notes when deliberately performing at a gentler pace works as wonderfully as this?
At times the approach of Charlap is almost Debussy like, recalling the work of Bill Evans, and no better is this exemplified than on the delicate ballad, ‘There is No Music’, and the tone is revisited on, ‘Too Late Now’. However, the trio can deliver a faster-paced repertoire when required as on the uplifting, ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’, where the musicians go up a couple of notches. For some variety, Charlap solos with, ‘On The Sunny Side of the Street’, while bassist Pete Washington takes an extended solo on, ‘Not a Care in the World’.

Overall, this is a deeply impressionistic vision of the great music tradition of New York with impeccable timing and subtle groove-laden riffs that are expertly weaved into the main theme. A virtually flawless performance and a pianist and trio that you should ignore at your peril.

Tim Stenhouse