What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bill Charlap's Sparkling "Uptown, Downtown"

September was a banner month. Two of my heroes produced new works. John McPhee published Draft No. 4. And Bill Charlap released Uptown, Downtown. I’ve already posted my response to McPhee’s superb book (see here, here, and here). Today, I want to comment on Charlap’s brilliant album. The choice of material is inspired – Gerry Mulligan’s “Curtains,” Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman’s “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Uptown, Downtown,” Isham Jones and Gus Kahn’s “The One I Love Belongs to Someone Else,” Michael Leonard and Herbert Martin’s “I’m All Smiles,” Rodgers and Hart’s “There’s a Small Hotel,” Gigi Gryce’s “Satellite,” Jim Hall’s “Bon Ami,” and Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” Each number is stocked with surprising notes and rich melodic imaginings. Charlap’s playing is fresh, sparkling, and perfect. He’s an improviser of the greatest subtlety and invention. His sidemen – bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington – are excellent. My favorite cut is “Curtains,” a gorgeous, swinging, shimmering thing that went straight into my personal anthology of great piano jazz.

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