LIVE: Bill Charlap Trio @ The Egg, 12/19/2021

ALBANY — Short and sweet, that was Bill Charlap’s all-Washingtons trio Sunday at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre. Give the guys (jazz pianist Charlap with drummer Kenny Washington and bassist Peter Washington, but not related) extra points for NOT playing any Christmas tunes.

The most old-fashioned player of his (boomer) generation, the versatile Charlap played fluently in the vocabularies of his predecessors. Thunderous McCoy Tyner-ish bass chords here, dazzling-fast runs ala Oscar Peterson or even Art Tatum there; some of Duke Ellington’s elegantly restrained swing, oblique Thelonious Monk geometry, tidy Teddy Wilson circumspection, Bill Basie’s sly syncopated high-up codas.

Yet, nothing sounded borrowed or archly antique. These guys loved that music for real.

In nondescript dark suits and ties with white shirts, they started dramatically with a rambunctious jump into “What Is This Thing Called Love” before settling into an easy-chair vamp, welcoming and smooth. The happy syncopated clatter of Gerald Wiggins’s “A Fifth for Frank” flowed into a drums and piano dialog, Kenny Washington wrapping up his solo break by playing the melody.

As musical but soft-spoken a drummer as we have today, Kenny W. often played brushes in accompaniment, then switched to sticks, never hitting very hard and always swinging. In the understated way of quiet sparse bassists, Peter Washington always hit just the right accents. And for all his buttoned-down look and sparse song intros, Charlap played with lots of body English, exuberant physical energy pumping the up-tempo tunes, while he sank reflectively into the ballads, hardly moving except his hands.

In Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” they alternated bars in three, then four, to start, then Charlap reached for the adrenaline and raised everybody’s pulse. He used his high gear sparingly, most often to surprise, and always with taste. After “Lady,” he kept his foot on the gas into “Out of Nowhere,” then eased into a gentler swing, Kenny W. simmering down with his brushes. When Peter W. glanced a cue at Charlap to close his bass solo and invite the guys into the recap, Kenny W. was there already, shifting to sticks to accentuate the melody.

Then he led with fleet brushwork into “In the Still of the Night,” another classic that Charlap transformed by taffy-pulling the tempo. Peter W. chimed in helpfully here, revving from walk into a sprint, dynamic deluxe, before stepping back for Charlap to coda alone.

Charlap launched “Here’s That Rainy Day” solo, too; then the Washingtons kept things soft and sweet. Same thing in “April in Paris” – Charlap mapped the journey alone, then the Washington’s accessorized the ride. But where “Rainy Day” opened an umbrella of gentle, unbroken lyricism over everything, “April” wandered some before an emphatic stop and go coda.

In a medley of Monk’s “Round Midnight” into “Criss Cross,” Charlap led without seams but with lots of driving melodic intelligence as tempo shifts often hit at different points than the chord changes.

Closing the set came two tunes Charlap didn’t announce. I think it was the cozy-then-more-expansive “The Duke” from their new “Street of Dreams” album next to last; then a faster, high-flying post-bop romp that generated heat and light. “The Duke” packed a breezy swing, but their last tune swung for the fences.

Without leaving but letting us know they were wrapping up, the trio enjoyed the standing ovation, then reached for their instruments again for “Body and Soul” – all their bluesy ballad strengths on proud display.

At 75 minutes, it felt a bit too short, though that may be just hoping for more of their beautifully articulated classic jazz. Their skills so confident, so impressive in the service of such classy expression, we didn’t want them to leave. As individuals, they quietly claimed our attention, then kept it. Kenny W. would hit a wonderful lick and my eyes would stay with him, until I might miss seeing Peter W. play a particularly tasteful bass riff. Watching him then might distract from a Charlap flourish.

All good, though; all good.

1 Comment
  1. Dave says

    Awesome review. I was there, and Michael nailed the show.

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