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Bill Charlap: Written In The Stars

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Able to paint with a rich and melodic pallet, while possessing a natural and bell-like tone, pianist Bill Charlap is a musician who is actively looking for new ways to express himself and compliment any musical situation. His sophisticated harmonic knowledge and sense of drama make him one of the most stimulating pianists around. It should come as no surprise that Charlap would pursue a career in music; his parents are the late Broadway composer Moose Charlap and vocalist Sandy Stewart. At the age of three, Bill began his piano studies, his formal musical education including graduation from New York's High School of the Performing Arts. Over the past several years, Charlap has gained valuable experience through work with Gerry Mulligan, Benny Carter, Louis Bellson, Shelia Jordan, and Tony Bennett, among many others. He has been a key member of the Phil Woods Quintet since 1995, the year he also began to record as a leader for the Criss Cross label.

Over the course of Charlap’s three Criss Cross dates one could sense the development of a truly exceptional artist and to say that these records, especially the inspirational Distant Star, are among the state-of-the-art when it comes to piano trio jazz is simply indulging in understatement. His first major label set, Written In the Stars, doesn’t quite scale the heights of Charlap’s Criss Cross sides but it comes pretty darn close. Musically there’s much to get excited about. Tin Pan Alley standards make up the program as usual, but it’s the interpretations that put things over the top. For example, “Blue Skies” is voiced by the bass and piano, its melody displaced and reshaped in angular phrases. “Where Or When” becomes a very attractive waltz and “One For My Baby” takes on a reflective calm like no other previous version ever has.

Don’t expect moments of technical flash from Charlap. He has nothing to prove and he’s more interested in milking everything he can from the melody and timbre of the moment. Of course, he can hard bop as intensely as the rest of them (a point he has proven via his sideman appearances on Criss Cross), but chooses to be more thoughtful in his own trio work. If there were one bone to pick with this album it would have to be concerning the engineering. The bass is simply too high up in the mix and the drums come across as sterile, with no room ambiance or reverberation to add to the overall sound (just listen to Kenny Washington on just about anything else he’s ever recorded to get a truer picture of his sound). It’s a small point of contention, however, with what is overall a very winning release.


Track Listing: In The Still Of The Night, Dream, The Man That Got Away, Blue Skies, Where Have You Been?, Where Or When, On a Slowboat To China, One For My Baby, I'll Never Go There Anymore, Lorelei, It Was Written In The Stars

Personnel: Bill Charlap (piano), Peter Washington (bass), Kenny Washington (drums)

Title: Written In The Stars | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Blue Note Records


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