I have a genetic affinity for piano players. My dad was a piano player with his own big band back in the 1930s. In our house if Teddy Wilson was not a god, he was at least a demigod when I was growing up.
I also think jazz, even more so than other music forms, is best when it is experienced live.
So from my standpoint Billy Charlap Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard had much going for it even before I played it. Charlap and his two trio members (Peter Washington on bass and Kenneth Washington on drums) delivered in spades.
The Village Vanguard is a 123 seat Mecca for jazz in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York. Charlap describes it as "Carnegie Hall to us. It’s the greatest listening room in jazz." And that feeling is captured to a tee in this excellent live album. The recording was done in 2005 during the week long celebration of the Vanguard’s 70th anniversary.
The Bill Charlap Trio is indeed a trio, not a king and two pawns, but three very talented musicians that form a whole that is at least equal to if not greater than the parts.
Charlap’s piano expertise shines and leads throughout all nine tracks, but the trio as a group displays an uncanny cohesiveness. They also display an amazing ability to .... how shall I say it .... surprise and delight, but changing tempo and timbre, but always within the flow of the number they’re performing.
Two stand-out tracks for me (a bit like choosing my favorite child by the way) are Roger and Hart’s "The Lady is a Tramp," featuring Peter Washington’s Ray Brown-like (that’s a high complement from me by the way) bass solo and Harold Arlen’s "My Shining Hour" which features all three trio members, but especially Kenneth Washington on drums who does some incredibly inventive and tasteful percussion work.
Additionally the trio’s lazy (I mean that in the best sense of the word) version of Arlen’s "It’s Only a Paper Moon" probably embodies the entire album.
It made me feel like I was there at the Vanguard with my dad sitting at a table in the corner, drinking a brandy (okay he would be having a shot and a beer) and listening to three performers at the top of their artistic and musical game.
That’s what jazz and especially live jazz is and should be all about. It doesn’t get any better than this.