Apostle of LS&N

Bill Charlap's Trio Play the Melody and Listen to Each Other

All Through the Night (1997) introduced the Washingtons and is in some ways a more mature if less startling effort (he stamps Wilder's "It's So Peaceful in the Country" indelibly), but the trio's rigors come to fruition on the two Blue Notes. I misprized Written on the Wind the first time around, hearing a cocktailish pithiness that, in light of Stardust and the Jazz Standard set, I now see as a core virtue in a stubbornly autonomous style that is at once beholden to and liberated from a '50s aesthetic. This style is exemplified by "In the Still of the Night," in which he refuses to hurry and finds his way from hesitant embellishments to puckish lightning-bug flight, winking in and out of the changes. He also makes "Blue Skies" romp, "One for My Baby" dawdle, and "Lorelie" twinkle the way they oughta.

One expects Charlap to know the jazz piano hierarchy from Wilson to Hancock. But what other young musician claims Jimmy Rowles, whose ironic fragments, touches of stride, closed chords, spare phrases, dynamic touch, and imperturbable patience he has assimilated; he lacks Rowles's third-martini drolleries, but everyone does. Those qualities are evident in the imaginative accompaniment he renders Warren Vache in their duets on last year's 2Gether (Nagel Heyer), an inspired jaunt for both, and an object lesson in distinguishing sentiment from molasses; with "Dancing on the Ceiling," they attain conversational perfection—somehow the piano takes on a touch of the trumpet's glimmer, auguring Vache's perfect concluding note. On "Prelude to a Kiss," Charlap's rubato theme leads him to think Miles's "Round Midnight" intro, which he cuts off with a tremolo—I'm surprised they didn't start again, but it's a funny, human, spontaneous moment. On the other hand, "Nip-Hoc Waltz" (ad hoc Chopin) justifies Charlap's practice of leaving the composing to others.

Stardust should enlarge his audience; it's the quintessential well-made album, the Hoagy Carmichael songbook augmented by four guests—all, like Charlap, shrewd economizers. No one will be surprised that Tony Bennett and Shirley Horn are in their element on comfortably protracted ballads. But when has Frank Wess had a better showcase? Humming "Rockin' Chair" with a Ben Webster-ish croon, he blends with the trio to create a plush groove, articulated by four-to-the-bar cymbals; this kind of playing comes with age, and the sentiment is historical only to the degree that few people dare play with such modesty anymore. Jim Hall opens "Two Sleepy People" with a loose solo variation that ends with a crafty phrase for Charlap to extend; a contrapuntal passage may remind you of Hall's two LPs with Bill Evans, but the net effect is quite different—a quietly jaunty chat between two self-possessed people at dawn's early light.

Linear and laconic, but fully interactive
photo: Cary Conover
Linear and laconic, but fully interactive

Hall sat in for Charlap's sold-out Wednesday set at the Jazz Standard and left the impression of playing a total of maybe 100 notes in the hour. Not that anything was missing. But if playing the bare minimum requires the same sense of adventure as kitchen-sink extravaganzas, then no one is more daring than this veteran guitarist who takes melody seriously enough not to overdress it; you get the feeling he'd rather unplug than play an unnecessary note. On tunes like "Without a Song" and "Blue Skies," as well as solid originals by Hall ("Bon Ami," "All Across the City"), they sparked polite dissonances and contrapuntal discourses that never descended to faux classicism. Refreshingly, Charlap didn't call a single song from the new album—they would have worked as well, but how novel that he wasn't thinking commerce.

In that regard, it's a pleasure to report that the renovated Jazz Standard is, along with the recently renovated Iridium, the best thing to happen on the club scene since the long-ago spurt of venues that produced Fat Tuesday's, Sweet Basil, Seventh Avenue South, Lush Life, Carlos 1, Greene Street, and others—all gone. The sound and lighting are superb, the sight lines are unimpeded, and the menu (high-end barbecue, if that isn't an oxymoron) and temper reflect the involvement of Danny Meyer, the restaurateur, who insists his employees act like they're glad to see you.

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