"Keepers of the Flame"
Victor Lin, Bill Charlap and Carol Sloane

BMCC TRIBECA Performing Arts Center November 15, 2007

By Joe Lang


Highlights in Jazz is a well-named series, for Jack Kleinsinger rarely fails to present a roster of talent that almost insures each concert will contain a full share of highlights. Such was the case with the November 15 program titled "Keepers of the Flame." The participants were the exciting Victor Lin Trio, a solo piano segment by the magnificent Bill Charlap, and a thoroughly engaging set by one of the great female jazz vocalists, Carol Sloane, accompanied by the Norman Simmons Trio.

Victor Lin was a player known to me by name only. That proved to be a void in my listening experience that I now regret. Lin plays piano and violin, and plays both of them with skill and imagination. For the piano numbers, he had the support of Michael Olatuja on bass and Joe Sailor on drums, while guitarist Ben Cassola joined in when Lin picked up his fiddle. They opened with a very original approach to "Out of Nowhere." Lin then launched into a slow and thoughtful solo take on "I've Got a Crush on You" before the rhythm joined in and they soon segued into "Dream a Little Dream of Me." Next up was the normally treacley "What a Wonderful World," which Lin used to burn up the keyboard in a demonstration of his serious chops. With violin in hand, and Cassola added, he closed his segment with "The Nearness of You" and "Pent Up House."

So much has been written about Bill Charlap in recent years, that it is almost impossible to find new words to describe his considerable artistry. He opened with Harry Warren's "The More I See You," sneaking in a reference to the intro to "Singing in the Rain." Charlap then turned to George Gershwin's "'S Wonderful," and he certainly was. The lovely, and too often neglected Vernon Duke melody "Cabin in the Sky" was followed by another Gershwin tune, "Nice Work If You Can Get It." Jerome Kern created "Remind Me" for the film "One Night in the Tropics," and it has developed into a favorite in cabaret circles, but has never received the kind of attention in jazz circles that it deserves. Charlap certainly helped to fill that void with his performance of the tune on this evening. He then took us on a short tour, starting in London with "A Foggy Day, moved on to "April in Paris, and finally arrived in "Manhattan." His final selection was Cole Porter's "It's All Right with Me," and his performance proved to be all right with those in attendance.

After a brief intermission, Carol Sloane took center stage with Norman Simmons on piano, Steve LaSpina on bass and Sheila Early on drums. Sloane has been on the scene for over 50 years, and continues to prove that she is among the elite when it comes to jazz vocalizing. Her approach to songs is understated and subtle. She alters melodies and bends notes in a way that makes you almost feel that the songs were written exactly as she sings them, or should have been. Her alterations are logical and believable, unlike some performers who seem to alter notes and melodies just for the sake of being different. Her opening selections were standards from the Great American Songbook, "I Only Have Eyes for You" and "Exactly Like You." Sloane always credits Carmen McRae as a primary inspiration, and usually includes a few selections that were associated with McRae. For this concert she chose to perform "I Haven't Got Anything Better to Do," "I'm an Errand Girl for Rhythm? and a lovely tune penned by Simmons, "If You Could Love Me." Showing off her most hip side, Sloane sang "Zoot Walks In," Dave Frishberg's lyrical take on the Zoot Sims/Gerry Mulligan composition "Red Door." Sloane and Simmons paired playful vocal duets on "The Glory of Love" and "Makin' Whoopee." Sloane has recorded three albums of material from the world of Ellingtonia, so hearing her combine "All Too Soon" and "Just A-Sittin' and A-Rockin'" seemed natural. A final Ellington-related treat was added when she called Charlap out to offer piano accompaniment on a stunning version of "Sophisticated Lady." This served as a quiet exclamation point for a superb evening of jazz.