Bill Charlap is a tremendous player in concert. He leans into a solo like a sailor tacking into the wind during a Pacific gale; his hands can disappear into a blur, and they can touch the keys with a delicacy usually reserved for surgeons and safecrackers. Regardless of approach, the results are usually breathtaking, making Charlap's first live recording, Live at the Village Vanguard
, such an exciting event.
This show happened during the legendary club's 70th anniversary celebration in 2005. Given his growing reputation as one of the genre's best interpreters, Charlap is the perfect person to revisit some of the music that the legendary club has presented. Teamed with longtime collaborators, drummer Kenneth Washington and bassist Peter Washington, Charlap serves up a tasty mix of composers like Gerry Mulligan, Jim Hall, and Rodgers and Hart. No matter what the tempo or the approach, the results are both exciting and intimate.
Mulligan's "Rocker gets the band and the crowd warmed up, as Charlap deftly runs through progressions that taste of Miles Davis and Victor Feldman's "Seven Steps to Heaven. This is West Coast with an East Coast bite: Charlap makes the piano wiggle and jump while Kenny's brushes drive the tune and Peter lays down a solid base. This pattern is delightfully repeated on a blinding take of "The Lady is A Tramp and the wild "My Shining Hour one of three pieces by Harold Arlen. George Walington's "Godchild is a little bit of funkiness that prefaces "Lady quite nicely.
It's easy to link Charlap to Bill Evans, given the amount of beauty and romance Charlap puts into Hall's "All Across The City and into two other ballads: Rodgers and Hart's "Autumn in New York and Arlen's "It's Only a Paper Moon. Both treatments are mirror-ball moments when you automatically reach for your baby's hand. But while Evans remains one of the great interpreters of the genre, he was also one of the best writers of his day. At the end of the day, that's what's frustrating about Charlap, who seems inexorably wedded to other people's material.
Kenny made his bones with the Ray Brown Trio, so he knows a little bit of change goes a long way. His brushes whisper like falling leaves in Central Park on "Autumn and hiss like a speeding freight train on "My Shining Hour. On the flip side, while Peter's foundation work is indisputable, his solos on "Tramp and "While We're Young are pretty pedestrian. Steve LaSpina played bass when I saw Charlap earlier this year, and brought a resonance that Peter decidedly lacks.
Live at the Village Vanguard is a nice taste of what the Charlap Trio is capable of in concert, as well as a sharp snapshot of the intimacy and immediacy the Vanguard still inspires. "The Vanguard is forever, Charlap has said. One can only hope.