"Bill Charlap Plays George Gershwin: The American Soul"
& SANDY STEWART
"Love Is Here to Stay"
Add George Gershwin's name to jazz pianist Bill Charlap's ever-expanding collection of songbook recordings. If "Bill Charlap Plays George Gershwin: The American Soul" doesn't offer quite as many pleasures as his recent tribute to Hoagy Carmichael, listening to it is nevertheless an hour enjoyably spent.
Charlap's fascination with the Great American Song Book comes naturally. The son of the late composer Morris "Moose" Charlap and the still vital vocalist Sandy Stewart, he grew up surrounded by famous pop tunesmiths. His choice of Gershwin tunes here emphasizes favorites -- " 'S Wonderful," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "How Long Has This Been Going On?" among others -- but the intimate small-combo arrangements, with and without horns, offer fresh perspectives right until the end, when Charlap caps the session with a poignant solo rendering of "Soon." Bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (no relation) are in typically unfussy form, sweeping "Who Cares?" and "Liza" into swing motion and, regardless of tempo, never obscuring the pianist's melodic variations and harmonic nuances. The contributions made by trumpeter Nicholas Payton, trombonist Slide Hampton, alto saxophonist Phil Woods and tenor great Frank Wess are another plus, bringing luster to some tracks ("Somebody Loves Me") and soulfulness to others ("How Long Has This Been Going On?").
Charlap's affecting way with a ballad is inherited. Or at least that's the impression left by "Love Is Here to Stay," a collection of quietly arranged duet performances in which his mother's interpretative finesse consistently shines. The album is chockablock with great songs, including a pair composed by "Moose" Charlap, and yet nothing casts a spell as tender as Stewart's back-to-back renderings of "The Boy Next Door" and a medley of "Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe" and "A Sleepin' Bee."
-- Mike Joyce
Bill Charlap appears Friday at the Kennedy Center.