There’s just something right about the way pianist Bill Charlap interprets a song. He’s revered among musicians and singers alike as someone who understands and plays the lyric as much as the melody. Charlap carries on in the tradition of Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones, masters of playing the Great American Songbook, swinging and squeezing perfect notes out of every tune. The trio never play songs the same way twice and if there’s even the smallest reason to catch Charlap in person, you must not deny yourself the reward of that experience. Until then, the superb Notes From New York (impulse!) is the best thing to being there.
Charlap shares a telepathic connection with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, they’ve been playing together since 1997. “I’ll Remember April” speeds along at a spirited clip, with the trio swinging with an effortless groove, stopping on a dime and a pause, before dipping back into the fast lane. On the fleet tempos, the trio has an elastic quality. You can hear them playing together, then apart before moving back toward the center and picking up again as one voice. This is a fast, meaty recording and it’s over before you realize it. Sublime ballads (“Too Late Now”) mix with joyful swingers (“Tiny’s Tempo” was popularized by Charlie Parker) and a surprise or two (John William’s “Make Me Rainbows”). The album closes with an elegant Charlap solo, “On The Sunny Side Of The Street.” (9 tracks; 52 minutes)
A beautifully composed ensemble album from the pen and imagination of pianist Julian Shore, Which Way Now? (Tone Rogue) celebrates the act of discovery, of going places and experiencing life. Shore made a splash with his 2012 debut, Filaments, which demonstrated the quality and depth of his compositional talent, along with his skills as a leader. “Our Story Begins On The Mountain” is cinematically rendered and stocked with sweeping strings, and Shore’s warm touch at the keys makes for a welcome overture to the songs that follow.
The record is resolutely pretty, yet Shore invests in a degree of depth and unifying interplay that binds the stories together with a dazzling sense of rhythm and flow. His core band – guitarist Gilad Hekselman, bassist Aidan Carroll, tenor Dayna Stephens and drummer Colin Stranahan – achieves a remarkable coherence on tracks like “Back Home” and “Across The Ice.”. Sinuous horn playing, shuffling tempos, the beautiful vocals on “Alpine,” and the angular percussion of Dizzy Gillespie’s beguiling “Con Alma are just parts of the sonic adventure that Shore takes us on. In full, this is a luminous album from start to finish. With saxophonist Noah Preminger and percussionist Samuel Torres. (10 tracks; 59 minutes)
Saxophonist George Coleman may have started his career in Memphis playing with B.B. King, but by the time he arrived in New York in 1957 to play on a jazz record for the first time with Lee Morgan (City Lights, Blue Note), his star was ascendant. His brief tenure with the Miles Davis Quintet is how many jazz fans know Coleman, but the dynamic sax player soon established his own following and estimable discography. (That’s him playing tenor on Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage recording.) Now 80, Coleman betrays no sense of diminished faculty or stamina on A Master Speaks (Smoke Sessions), his first album as a leader in twenty years. His tone remains deep, burnished, husky and soulful.
The album starts with a bang – an extended arrangement of “Invitation” kicks off with a spirited Horace Silver-like riff played by pianist Mike LeDonne. It’s a fine groove that’s joined by bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer George Coleman, Jr. that Coleman, Sr. just glides into. It’s a syncopated swinger that lets his dark, smooth sax go on the prowl. Authentic in feeling, Coleman gives standards such as “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Darn That Dream” a level of swing and class that they deserve along with a renewed melodic interest. Guitarist Peter Bernstein sits in on “Blues For B.B.” a stately Coleman original that fetes his former mentor in the most lyrical way, and the band wraps its up with a high-style, old-school jam, “Time To Get Down.” Coleman admits he doesn’t like to record much, but he loves to play. Lucky for us, A Master Speaks captures his voice in all its glory. (9 tracks; 66 minutes)
I have an unabashed enthusiasm for singer/songwriter Laurin Talese, a Philadelphia based vocalist who demonstrates uncommon originality and vision on her splendid debut, Gorgeous Chaos (self-released). She’s a co-writer on half of the album’s twelve tracks, which are boosted with tight, sophisticated arrangements and by ace accompaniment. As a singer, Talese is sure to make waves with the neo-soul ballad “Winter” features a high-grooving keyboard solo by Robert Glasper, which anchors the album, and also with the jazz-pop confection “Kissing A Fool,” a flawless duet she performs with Vivian Greene. I love the way Talese confidently navigates the zippy Broadway cadence of “This Love” and brings an upscale panache to “Made Up My Mind,” a swinging track with a buoyant Joe Sample-like piano solo by the remarkable Eric Wortham. The album is delivered like a Valentine and Talese’s voice carries the day, soaring with warmth, sincerity and an abundance of grace. (12 tracks; 54 minutes) (Available for download on iTunes)