Premier Pianists Perform Back-to-Back in New Haven and Hartford This Weekend

Dec 4, 2013

Helen Sung performs in Hartford, and Bill Charlap performs in New Haven this coming weekend.
Credit Helen Sung / Carol Friedman / Helen Sung / Bill Charlap

Pianophiles can double their pleasure this weekend thanks to back-to-back performances by premier pianists Bill Charlap at 8:00 pm Friday, December 6, in New Haven at Yale University’s Sprague Hall, followed the next night by Helen Sung at 8:00 pm Saturday, December 7, at Hartford’s Japanalia Eiko.

Charlap's art of the piano trio sets the gold standard for piano, bass and drums instrumentation.

If you’re hungering for a totally radical, plugged-in alternative to the adventurous yet logical, acoustic universe presided over by Charlap—a master interpreter of American Songbook classics and jazz standards—you can feast your ears on the electric buzz, fuzz and static energy generated by the bold, new group, Electronhic. It switches on its charged atmospherics and alternating moods at 8:30 and 10:00 pm Saturday, December 7, at New Haven’s Firehouse 12.

Charlap leads his superb, tightly-knit trio, comprised of his simpatico sidekicks, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington. Collectively and individually, the trio brings the highest level of modern jazz chamber music to the Ellington Jazz Series, part of Yale’s prestigious Duke Ellington Fellowship Program.

Part of Charlap’s gift is doubtless due to his rich musical gene pool, as well as the music-drenched environment of his childhood. It wasn’t unusual for little Bill to see his Dad -- the celebrated Broadway composer, Moose Charlap -- at the family piano working on one of his scores for a hit Broadway show. As Dad composed at the keyboard, Bill might hear his mother, the fine singer Sandra Stewart (credits ranging from King of Swing Benny Goodman to the iconoclastic, comic genius, Ernie Kovacs) singing away in the kitchen. When the Charlaps’ Manhattan apartment wasn’t filled with the recorded sound of music of every kind from jazz to classical, it was alive with the clever music- biz chatter and witticisms of visiting heavyweight songwriter friends, including Jule Styne, Charles Strouse, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

After formative apprenticeships with Old Masters Gerry Mulligan and Phil Woods, Charlap evolved into a Young Master in his own right through a series of increasingly acclaimed recordings, including fresh, inventive tributes to such great American composers as George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.

With its orchestral textures, horn-like fluidity, and crackling interaction, Charlap’s art of the piano trio sets the gold standard for piano, bass and drums instrumentation. He and his wife, the celebrated pianist Renee Rosnes — jazz piano’s power couple -- live in Montclair, New Jersey. Thanks to the favorable geography, Charlap’s far-ranging touring schedule allows him to make encore performances in Connecticut and Massachusetts. He returns, in fact, to Massachusetts on March 23, 2014, for another appearance at The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton.

Charlap’s Yale concert is in Morse Recital Hall, located in Sprague Hall, 470 College Street, New Haven. Tickets start at $20; $10 with student ID. Information: (203) 432-4158.

While Charlap enjoys well-merited iconic status, Sung, a classically-trained jazz pianist, is a rising young talent hovering on a major breakthrough. Especially now, with her triumphant, soon-to-be-released album, Anthem for a New Day, her debut release on the influential label Concord Jazz. A symbolic declaration of independence for her own eloquent artistry, Anthem might well elevate her from unsung hero status (a flattering but ultimately dead-end category) to her proper place in the jazz firmament.

Anthem is a banner showcase for Sung's swinging style, bright tone, fluid phrasing and artful articulation, as well as for her composing skills. Sung leads a blue-ribbon supportive team on the CD that includes saxophonist Seamus Blake and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, plus elegant guest appearances by Regina Carter and Paquito D’Rivera.

With Sung's accompanists TBA, the pianist performs at Japanalia Eiko, 11 Whitney Street, Hartford. A busy boutique by day, Japanalia transforms into an intimate jazz and cabaret venue by night. Tickets: $48, stage-side table seating; $28, general row seating; BYOB encouraged. Reservations: (860) 232-4677.

Experimental electronics

And now for something completely different: a flying circus of electrified, electrifying sonic possibilities.

Be prepared for the shock of the new as The New Haven Improvisers Collective presents Electronhic, an experimental electronic music group. Its diversified, plugged-in and unplugged arsenal includes odd effected guitars, synthesizers, a highly processed theremin (an early 20th-century electronic innovation), saxophones (a 19th-century invention) and such medieval music-makers as recorders and the double-reeded shawm.

The quintet’s high-tech/acoustic flights are fueled by drums and Brett Bottomley’s electronic Chapman Stick. A Chapman Stick is neither a lip balm nor an allusion to Monty Python’s Graham Chapman. It’s a guitar-like instrument with 12 strings, played by tapping on the fretboard.

Electronhic’s rejoiceful juice flows at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street, New Haven. Tickets: $15; purchased at firehouse12.com, (203) 785-0468, or at the box office beginning at 7:00 pm the night of the show.

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

Additional explorations

Firehouse 12, as part of its highly successful 2013 Fall Jazz Series, presents drummer/composer Ralph Peterson and his augmented band, Fo’tet, at 8:30 and 10:00 pm Friday, December 6. Besides being a bandleader, he’s been the sideman of choice for figures ranging from Art Blakey to David Murray. Tickets: $18, first set; $12, second set.

In additional avant garde explorations in the Elm City, the Philip Greenlief, Taylor Ho Bynum and Carl Testa Trio share a double bill with the Anthony Coleman and Chris Cretella Duo at 7:30 pm Sunday, December 8, in the ongoing Uncertainty Music Series at Lipgloss Crisis, 756 Chapel Street, New Haven.

In what has quickly become a one-venue variety show, Old Lyme’s The Side Door Jazz Club presents saxophonist Donny McCaslin, sidekick for the likes of Dave Douglas and Maria Schneider, leading his trio Thursday, December 5. McCaslin is followed the next night by the Colombian percussionist/composer Samuel Torres and his octet Friday, December 6, at the red-hot shoreline jazz spa, 85 Lyme Street, Old Lyme. Tickets: $25 for each show. Doors open at 7:30 pm. Showtime: 8:30 pm. Information: (860) 434-0886.

Using the dynamic range of conga drums and his Latin jazz ensemble, Torres presents his socially conscious, anti-war oeuvre, “Forced Displacement.” Tapping into his country’s indigenous and Afro-Colombian musical roots, the maestro portrays how the disasters of war, wreaked by the long-running conflict in Colombia, have uprooted the lives of countless innocent victims.

On a more blissfully peaceful note, singer/guitarist John Pizzarelli headlines a Christmas concert presented by the Stamford Symphony at 3:00 pm Sunday, December 8, at the Palace Theatre/Stamford Center for the Arts, 61 Atlantic Street. Holiday favorites and American Songbook classics are wrapped in symphonic strings and sparkling stylings by Pizzarelli, a singer for all seasons. Tickets: adults, $75, $55 and $35; half-price for students under 17. Box office: (203) 325-4466; online: stamfordsymphony.org.

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