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Bill Charlap in Albany, NY

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One of the finest practioners of the piano these days is Bill Charlap. He's not going to be pushing the envelope and probably no one has yet seen him dash off on Jarrett-esque sojourns or Herbie-with-Miles escapades. But he is an engaging and sophisticated player, full of nvention and... yes.. even charm.

His trio is one of the best out there and has been togther for a few years now, though on Jan. 16 at The egg in Albany, NY, he carried bassist Ben Wolfe, and not Peter Washington, who usually plays the bass alongside drummer Kenny Washington. Not much problem, Wolfe, a sold musician, held the fort.

The concert was part of the Egg's tribute to Leonard Bernstein and the facility — a blessing for all of the livey arts in the Capital District of New York state — had several days of varying events related to Bernstein. Charlap's latest Blue Note CD Somewhere is an all-Bernstein tip of the hat. But Charlap also threw in music of George Gerhswin for good measure, mixing up tunes from both.

An excellent tribute it was, as Charlap worked his magic over the piano. "Somebody Loves Me" started it out, beginning with block chords, which he plays with great touch, then sauntered into single-note runs and sweet swing. The trio is at home no matter what the tempo, but Washington is particularly adept at plain swing. "America" was played at a brisk pace over propulsive Afro-Cuban beats from Washington. The challenging ballad "Some Other Time" was a special treat. It was a perfect example of how Charlap sets a mood and creates contemplative effects. He has a flair for using the dynamics of the 88 keys — soft as a baby's breath at times and loud where appropriate — for dramatic effect.

With both classic and jazz training in his background, Charlap has influences of both and chops to spare. But he lets he music breathe. There might be a few beats of silence before a blistering run, his touch light and free-wheeling. other times it might be one well-placed note that carries the phrase. And sometimes one soft note... so soft one wonders how it could be heard, but it can. And felt as well.

"Jump" from West Side Story" was fast and furious, his sidemen keeping pace. Washington, throughout, how locked-in he is with the pianist, having played together so often. Loud to soft, fast to slow, the two are right in step and it makes a difference in the music.

It was another sweet night at The Egg, with Charlap at the helm, emitting class and elegance which matches well with the facility itself.

Photo Credit
Henry Benson

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