Pianist Bill Charlap continues to mine precious gems from the American songbook on this release dedicated to the music of lauded songwriter and composer George Gershwin. A lyrical pianist in his own right with a clear penchant for classic swing in a modern context, Charlap has an affinity with songs from yesterday (both of his parents were involved in Broadway).
The American Soul is the followup to 2004's Somewhere: The Songs Of Leonard Bernstein, and it ups the ante with Charlap's longtime trio (including drummer Kenny Washington and bassist Peter Washington) augmented by special guests: trumpeter Nicholas Payton, trombonist Slide Hampton, and saxophonists Phil Woods and Frank Wess. While the soul of the music is Gershwin, the musicians translate that spirit into heartfelt and superb performances, paying empathetic attention to detail on these timeless Gershwin tunes, which exhibit both familiarity and newness.
The trio is featured on three songs with a sound that's down to a pure science of presence and oneness, particularly notable on the poignant "I Was So Young, and You Were So Beautiful as Charlap's piano quietly sings the melody, and "Liza, with its impeccable precision and nice brush work by Washington. But the real treat lies with the horns as masters old and young enter the fray, opening up the sound with clean arrangements and lively soloing on "Nice Work If You Can Get It and "How Long has This Been Going On, which features the masterful sax of veteran Frank Wess.
The issue of whether jazz should press forward or indulge memories of the past will continue to be discussed, but The American Soul is for music lovers who appreciate both ideas by recreating new memories of time-weathered classics. Whether you're old enough to remember these Gershwin jewels or not, this recording comes highly recommended.
1 Who Cares?; 2 Somebody Loves Me; 3 Liza; 4 How Long Has This Been Going On?; 5 A Foggy Day; 6 S
Bill Charlap - piano; Kenny Washington - drummer; Peter Washington - bassist; Nicholas Payton - trumpet;
Slide Hampton - trombone; Phil Woods - alto sax; Frank Wess - tenor sax.
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