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Bill Charlap plays Gershwin - The American Soul by Bill Charlap

To quote pianist Bill Charlap, "Gershwin is the heart and soul of American music... Gershwin's music is designed for interpretation and reinterpretation. We will never run out of ways to play and arrange his songs."

Charlap and his associates, drummer Kenny Washington and bassist Peter Washington, exhibit plenty of ways to interpret Gershwin in this superb new release, his fourth for Blue Note. They have been together since 1997 and seem to breathe as one. The prior CDs saluted the American popular song and composers Hoagy Carmichael and Leonard Bernstein. For this outing, Charlap wrote charts for a horn section and invited a cluster of stars: Nicholas Payton, Slide Hampton, Phil Woods and Frank Wess.

Charlap is an intriguing player. Creative and sensitive, he has a command of technique that is never in your face or in his way. The three trio tracks demonstrate that it doesn't take a lot of time to make a statement. "Who Cares" is a rhythmic trip through time and space while "Liza" combines lightness and speed. The seldom-heard "I Was So Young and You Were So Beautiful," which dates back to 1919, is treated with tenderness.

There are many quality solos during the septet numbers. Charlap surprises us with "S'Wonderful" when his relaxed piano entry suddenly produces a bop romp with tight ensemble work. "Somebody Loves Me" and "Nice Work" feature shifting accents and plenty of solos between band bookends. Peyton is particularly strong on the latter. Charlap is a master of introductions and his impressionistic opening to Hampton's interpretation in "Foggy Day" is an excellent example.

Frank Wess is featured on an oh-so-slow interpretation of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" that will bring the great Ben Webster to mind. Charlap's fills are perfectly placed, reflecting his feel for lyrics and his experience in accompanying vocalists (including his mother, Sandy Stewart). "Bess" draws us in as Woods and Charlap both caress and explore that emotional Gershwin melody.

The session ends with a little gem. Charlap alone at the keyboard quietly playing "Soon." An eloquent tribute to Gershwin, who died at thirty-eight, from a musician of the same age who does so many things so well.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bill Charlap
  • CD Title: Bill Charlap plays Gershwin - The American Soul
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Blue Note
  • Rating: Five Stars
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