Bill Charlap: Contrasts with Jon Gordon / Voyage with Phil Woods

C. Michael Bailey By

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A precocious, well- studied pianist, trading eights with two alto giants.

 The common denominator in both of these recent releases would at first glance appear to be pianist Bill Charlap. However, the relationship goes much deeper. Alto saxophonist Jon Gordon was a school chum of Charlap's at New York City's High School for the Performing. Phil Woods's was Gordon's principle teacher and produced Contrasts for Double-Time records. The disc was recorded in Phil Wood's home. Phil Woods's mentions Voyage in the liner notes for Contrasts and recorded voyage aboard the Queen Elizabeth II with Bill Charlap's working trio. Bill Charlap has been a member of Phil Woods's Quintet since 1995. Thus this is music that runs deep.

Bill Charlap is fresh off of his success with an earlier duet outing with Warren Vaché, 2gether. On that recording, Charlap proved an encyclopedic knowledge with the American Songbook both in terms of content and performance. He, while being considerable younger than the veteran Vaché, played with a keenly intelligent empathy, never sounding out of place. Here Charlap's empathy surpasses that which he showed Vaché. Having known Gordon for so long paid off. Contrasts is a fine duet recital of standards and originals. Jon Gordon has a very interesting dry tone compared to that of his mentor Woods. Gordon sounds like an amalgam of Frank Morgan and Johnny Hodges with an edge of Art Pepper. Not exactly a "wounded bird" as Morgan's tone was once described. Gordon's tone is parchment fine, maybe a 'wounded bird" with an IQ of 160. Gordon and Charlap approach their material much in the same way, very respectfully and with heightened sensitivity. This results in dramatically performed music that is never melodramatic. Charlap is a ballad performer on par with Fred Hersch and Hersch's muse, Bill Evans. This philosophy dovetails perfectly with Gordon's approach. Made up of mostly standards, Contrasts, offers jazz from the confines of the duet that is never claustrophobic or smothered. Both men allow one another plenty of space to look for the right notes. "Stardust" is taken as a lengthy dissertation on nostalgia. "Young at Heart is innocence in carnate. "Over the Rainbow" may be the perfect ballad for these balladeers. "For Sue" was written by West Coaster Jack Montrose for Jon Gordon's mother. It is performed like an unbroken sigh. This is a alto-piano duet disc on par with Art Pepper's Goin' Home and Frank Morgan's Double Image.

Phil Woods needs little introduction, but here is one anyway. A true purveyor of the Be Bop vocabulary, Woods might be considered the Johannes Brahms to Charlie Parker's Beethoven, serving as the stalwart keeper of the flame. One cannot accuse Phil Woods of copying Bird. There are many, many other lesser talents that did that. No, Phil Woods carved out his place and continued to preach the same finely crafted gospel for the past 50 years.

Voyage, recorded with the Bill Charlap Trio with Roy Hargrove aboard the Queen Elizabeth II finds the seventy-plus year old Woods in top form. Woods' tone is rich, full, and fluid, without any trace of effort. He breathes Be Bop from his horn. Whether a slow ballad or up-tempo vamp, Phil Woods displays a diamond hard expertise beyond reproach. This is a well-conceived disc of standards that are so expertly performed that the listener might expect an empathy form a lifetime of playing with the same personnel. This in spite of the fact that Woods and Charlap did not begin their professional association until 1995, when Woods recruited Charlap for his quintet. An upbeat "A Beautiful Friendship" and sumptuous title cut surf over a bright assembly of material. The quartet becomes a quintet when Roy Hargrove joins them on flugelhorn for Kenny Dorham's "Philly Twist" and "These Foolish Things."

This disc would serve well anyone who has only read about Phil Woods but never investigated him. It is live and immediate and readily accessible. Coupled with the intimate Contrasts, this pair of disc would make any jazz enthusiast smile.

Track Listing: Contrasts: Stardust; Young At Heart; Bye Ya; For Sue; These Foolish Things; Contrasts; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Compensation; Over The Rainbow. (Total Time: 53:14).

Voyage: A Beautiful Friendship; Hey There; "Philly" Twist; These Foolish Things; Smitty Ditty; Trouble Is A Man; I'll Be Around; Voyage; I'll See You Again.. (Total Time: 76:50).

Personnel: Contrasts: Jon Gordon: Alto Saxophone; Bill Charlap: Piano.

Voyage: Phil Woods: Alto Saxophone; Roy Hargrove: Flugelhorn; Bill Charlap: Piano Peter Washington: Bass; Willie Jones III: Drums

Title: Contrasts with Jon Gordon / Voyage with Phil Woods | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Double-Time Jazz


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