In jazz improvisation, speed for the sake of speed is often self-defeating. Beyond a certain velocity, fingers tend to outrun brains. The automatic pilot kicks in and a musician ends up merely–as a standard phrase in the critic’s lexicon has it–running the changes. Even Art Tatum and Charlie Parker had episodes of auto-pilotitis when fast tempos produced visceral excitement and little else.
Saturday evening at The Seasons, I heard the Bill Charlap Trio play “In The Still Of The Night” at a clip unmeasurable by a metronome unless it could register well over 320 beats a minute. Following Charlap’s piano introduction spiced with allusions to Thelonious Monk, he, Peter Washington and Kenny Washington were off like synchronized rockets.
Through chorus after chorus, despite the tempo Charlap fulfilled Lester Young’s ideal for soloists; he told a story, never falling into content deficit. That wasn’t the only fast performance of the evening. The trio took Irving Berlin’s “The Best Thing For You,” Cole Porter’s “All Through The Night,” George Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and Charlie Parker’s “Passport” at rapid tempos, but “In The Still Of The Night” must have come close to setting a new land speed record for piano trios.
Bill Charlap Peter Washington Kenny Washington
It seemed to me that in medium-tempo pieces and in ballads, there was more subtle interaction among Charlap’s piano, Kenny W’s drums and Peter W’s bass than when I have heard the band before. Porter’s rarely heard “Where Have You Been” was achingly beautiful. As in the trio’s recent Village Vanguard recording, George Wallington’s “Godchild,” drew on Gerry Mulligan’s famous Birth Of The Cool arrangement. The encore–only two days late–was “My Funny Valentine,” taken slowly. In an effective departure, Charlap interpolated the song’s verse as a solo interlude,.
If Keith Jarrett hadn’t taken the name, The Standards Trio could describe Charlap’s group. Their repertoire is largely based in classic American songs to which audiences relate. Within those recognizable frameworks, Charlap and the Washingtons create new music. It’s a formula whose success is enhanced by three superior musicians whose decade of experience together results in unusual empathy. Every time I’ve heard them lately, they’re better. And faster.