By Margret Echeverria

Cold?  Feeling the January sleepies?  Well, the Bill Charlap Trio at SMOKE Jazz and Supper Club is on fire cookin’ up food for your soul.  The minute you walk into SMOKE, you are stepping into class.  The cocktails are generously poured and mixed right, the food is stellar – I had the flakiest and most tender calamari ever – everyone is dressed “cool” and slightly shiny, the waitstaff is a pleasure and up against the red curtains at the front of the room are some of the best jazz acts coming through town.  Not the least of which are these three guys, Bill CharlapPeter Washington and Kenny Washington who have been playing together since 1997.

As the clock struck starting time, Charlap got up from the piano and came to the back of the room where he said to the technical staff – a very modern bunch with a portable sound board (I never knew they had those!) – “I gotta wash my glasses.  I can’t see a damn thing.”  And we waited while he went to the washroom and returned to the stage about four minutes later, where Peter Washington had magically appeared with a double bass and Kenny Washington popped up behind the drums.  Charlap, now very ready to play, struck dramatic chords on the piano like the fun kid at the party, while the host reminded us to turn off our cell phones and not to tell the story of our lives to our company during the show.

In this trio, there are no pronounced looks or body movements to make their cues known to one another.  It’s a spirit that moves between them and then moves in us.  Their first melody started with a structured crash of chords on the piano almost like a three-year-old discovering the

Bill Charlap's hands on the Piano at SMOKE

Bill Charlap’s hands on the Piano at SMOKE

diversity of sound possible from a grand piano – so playful and free.  The bold sounds tossed out any diversions in my mind immediately.  Charlap then strokes the keys with what feels like total love, so sentimental.  Then Peter Washington’s graceful big hands are moving over the double bass so quickly with a precision that allows the beats to sing, too.  There was not a single dead “donk” from those strings all night.  And Peter does NOT sweat it.  So smooth and chill.

Weaving in the sound like a big cat is Kenny Washington’s drums, comfortable and in total control of the territory.  He is inside the beats of the melodies and not threatened at all by the percussive surprises from Charlap’s hands, especially in the low registers on the piano, as they were see-sawing the passes back and forth, not holding anything.  And, hand to Jesus, Kenny Washington brought out a seductive jaguar’s purr from his drums on one solo.  It was pure magic I have never heard before.

I love the playful style in “What is This Thing Called Love,” as all three musicians awakened us out of our January doldrums with their unexpected percussive opening.  It is sexy, as if each man is saying, Sit Down, Girl!!  Now, let me make love to you.  The beats soften and the sweetness washes over us.  Charlap leads an expansion of the melodies up and down the keyboard over and under like an intimate dance.  My date coos the lyrics softly into my ear.

Charlap looks like a high school music director with an apologetic slouch in his upper back and a shy smile, but don’t be fooled, he is paying very careful attention to you as much as he is to his band.  If you are lucky enough to have a seat up front, he whispers to you like an old friend and shares secret observations as he plays.  My date and I sat at the back.  After the show, Charlap spoke to those technical guys saying the sound was just right.  I disagreed slightly.  I wanted Peter Washington to be slightly louder, but maybe I’m just old in the ears.  Then, it was as if Charlap felt our ecstatic state.  He took us in for a moment and said, “It’s good to see you.  It’s good to see BOTH of you.”

We could have listened for hours more.  The next morning, we are still so blissed out.  The Bill Charlap Trio is Jazz on a truly spiritual level.  Go get loved up.

Bill Charlap will be returning to New York several times this spring.  For the complete schedule go to BILL CHARLAP.