In his debut season as artistic director of the annual six-event Jazz in July concert series, pianist-arranger Bill Charlap harnessed the talents of four world-class keyboard masters for a program that bridged a colorful variety of techniques, interpretations and styles. “Continuum” united the diverse gifts of Mulgrew Miller, a thundering echo of Oscar Peterson; the legendary Hank Jones, who exhibits the poise and delicacy of Teddy Wilson; Ray Bryant, a past master of traditional blues and boogie; and Renee Rosnes, who brings to ballads the kind of poetic frame one associates with Bill Evans.
Replacing Dick Hyman, who held the post for two decades, Charlap dedicated the program to the memory of James Williams, who died last year. Miller opened the concert with a driving, bop-flavored version of Duke Jordan’s “Jordu,” but it was a supremely lyrical performance of “You’re Blase” that set the mood for a concert that balanced blues with some very cushy ballads. Miller’s rich fat chords and dancing arpeggios never diminish the delicacy and colors of his ballad approach.
Rosnes joined Miller for a romping turn with Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” before settling into her own solo spot with “Embraceable You.” With the Gershwin tune, Rosnes not only revealed the Evans influence in phrasing but displayed the kind of enveloping warmth she has at her fingertips.
Delicacy and subtlety have always been the hallmark of Hank Jones. The pianist, who will celebrate his 87th birthday next week, has always maintained the importance of playing in one’s own space. He makes that particular space one of reverence and distinction. With the Arthur Schwartz ballad “Alone Together,” Jones showed how nuance can define the boundaries of a love song. In a more deeply seated, hard-driving jazz mode, he took Oliver Nelson’s “Six and Four” for a tidy flight that gave bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington space to cut loose with clean solo turns.
Jones joined Bryant for an Ellington “A Train” spin that prefaced Bryant’s earthy turn with “Broadway” and some traditional burly blues. Finale found Miller, Jones, Rosnes and Bryant in a brief happy turn with Duke’s “C Jam Blues.” The feeling of unified joy that celebrates the legacy of traditional jazz provided a happy ending to a lustrous evening.
Series wraps next week with tributes to Hoagy Carmichael (Tuesday), Horace Silver and Kenny Dorham (Wednesday) and Nat Cole (Thursday).