Kurt Elling/Bill Charlap Live, Albany, N.Y.
Interviewer since 1999R.J. DeLuke is an indefatigable jazz fan and arbiter elegantiarum who aspires to ultimate hipness; also an upstate NY freelance writer for various media.
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In his own set, Charlap played what is by now a typical exhibition of his talent: superb musicianship and taste applied to songs that people know, and some they don't, but all pointedly American jazz. His fingers can be incredibly light, flying over the keyboard, yet he can project lush chords along with an understanding of harmony and expressive melodic phrasing that are a pleasure to hear.
Drummer Kenny Washington, by now a veteran of the trio, contributed brush work that stood out while providing empathetic support, particularly on "It's Only a Paper Moon and the little-known George Gershwin ballad "I Was So Young (You Were So Beautiful). Throughout the night, his ability to switch from sticks to brushes and catch each nuance and there is much nuance in Charlap's playing was remarkable. No doubt, it comes from the pair working together so long but also from Washington's rich experience and impressive list of credentials as a seasoned pro.
Peter Washington didn't fill his normal spot on contrabass, but no worries. Steve LaSpina, long an outstanding bassist with excellent chops, filled in fine. "Put On a Happy Face found LaSpina flying across his instrument with a strong tone and plenty of ideas. Charlap played pieces as diverse as Gerry Mulligan's "Rocker, played at a burning tempo, and Leonard Bernstein's "There's a Place For Us, which showed his poignant and expressive way with a song. A sweet set.
And a sweet night.