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Bill Charlap and Sandy Stewart

Love Is Here to Stay

(Blue Note; US: 27 Sep 2005; UK: 26 Sep 2005)

Hi, and welcome to the review of the most recent Blue Note release by pianist Bill Charlap. Thanks for tuning in—we’ve got an exciting new album to talk about.


Host takes long sip of coffee from his Talk Show Host Mug.


I mean, this is one to really get “jazzed” about—ha-ha!


Rimshot from Talk Show Band Drummer.


Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Bill Charlap and Sandy Stewart’s Love Is Here to Stay!


Talk Show Band plays a questionably tasteful version of the Gershwin tune that gives the new Charlap/Stewart album its name.


Welcome to the show.


Thanks… for having… us… Bob.


So, I’ve listened to the disc, and I have to say,... Host Bob nods off in mid-sentence. A Headphone-Clad Stage Manager rushes on, slaps his face, then hands him his mug of coffee. A looooong sip.


Ahhhh! Where was I?


You… were talking… about… the new album…, Bob.


Yeah, that’s right. Well, the question is this. Bill, you’re one of the smartest mainstream jazz pianists out there today, so: Do you know the definition of the word “soporific”?


Um….


Bob’s head drops the host desk yet again. The snoring is pretty loud. The Headphone-Clad Stage Manager bring a whole pot of coffee to the desk and pours it on Bob’s head.


Thanks, Biff. Nice Columbian. Now, where was I?


Sop… or… ific?


That’s right, Bill Charlap and Sandy Stewart’s Love Is Here to Stay. Soporific! As in, “Inducing or tending to induce sleep”! Look, on my little index card here it says that you, Sandy, are Bill’s mother. And you’re a cabaret singer and the widow of songwriter and father “Moose” Charlap. So, yeah—got it—the mother/son thing, but did this album have to be all about tucking listeners in for a long evening snooze? Tell me what were you thinking!?


Well, they are sensitive treatments of classic Tin Pan Alley pop songs, Bob.


Fair enough, Bill & Sandy, but did you have to play them all at such excruciatingly slow tempos? Almost every tune uses the song’s little-known intro, and I was just praying that you’d lock into a little swing after that. But no—it’s a full-length collection of dead-tempo ballads for piano and voice. Just thinking about it makes me want to grab my teddy bear and slip into my jammies. Let’s all listen to the track ********.


Charlap’s gorgeously voiced piano chords ring quietly. His mom’s voice, pleasing in a somewhat vinegary way, hits all the pitches perfectly but with a slight warble. The tempo crawls. Every time there is a chance that the bass line will walk or the chords will pop, the whole thing is smothered in lyrical stasis.


The in-studio audience collectively snores like a den of grizzly bears, and studio pages cover them with complimentary NBC blankets. Bob, his clothes still drenched in fine Columbian espresso, remains conscious.


Bill, just look at these people. They are almost flat lining with boredom. They have been slipped a supersonic Mickey. They look line they were attacked by a Demerol intravenous line. The collective yawn this crowd just engaged in would have allowed you to slip a Buick station wagon down their gullets. I’m telling you: your album is snoozifying in extremis.


But they… are really, really,... gorgeous… songs.


Agreed. But they’re curiously flattened by the treatment they get here. They don’t jump or come alive. They just sit there, seemingly robbed of all rhythmic dimension. I hate to bring this up, Bill, but the old saw that you are a modern-day Bill Evans—the whitest jazz pianist around—is horribly exacerbated by this disc.


Hey! That’s not an accurate assessment of Bill Evans! He was a gorgeous ballad player, but the guy could swing like mad! How can you judge me if you don’t know your jazz piano in the first place?


Now that’s the kind of energy Love Is Here to Stay needs. You’re right about Evans, of course. And the duet album he made with a singer—The Tony Bennett-Bill Evans Album—was terrifically swinging. That album is funny, heartbreaking, brisk, pretty, and alive. I would never want to second guess an artist—tell you what you should have done—but this disc does not work.


But Mom sounds good, doesn’t she?


Bill, you seem like a really nice guy, and your mom is fabulous. But her range of singing expression on this record is very narrow. Based on this album, it’s really hard to say. Sorry, Mom. You’re not gonna punch me, are you Bill?


Headphone-Clad Stage Manager peeks out from around the corner of the set warily. But Charlap and Stewart do not climb across the desk.


What do you like on our record, Bob? I mean, you’re a talk show host—isn’t it the law that you have to suck up to guests?


Your version of “It Might As Well Be Spring” gets a nice sway going. I can tell you two have played together for years—the feeling is so in sync.


There we go. Mom, does that make you feel any better? Bob, she’s still pretty glum about this interview.


OK, but I’m afraid that’s all the time we have. Hope to have you guys back on the show when you pick up the tempo a little, OK?


Mom, let’s go get an egg cream, whaddaya say?


Talk Show Band breaks into theme song and the audience, after Headphone-Clad Stage Manager douses them with mouthwash, begins to wake up….

Rating:

Will Layman is a writer, teacher and musician living in the Washington, DC area. He is a contributor to National Public Radio and frequently appears as a guest on WNYC's "Soundcheck" as a jazz critic. He plays both funk and jazz in the bars and clubs in and near the nation's capital. His fiction and humor appear in print and online.


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