In a spirited salute to the man he aptly described as an "awesome musical force," West Orange piano dynamo Bill Charlap headed up "Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein" on Tuesday at the 92nd Street Y's Kaufmann Concert Hall.
Leading off the Y's annual Jazz in July series, which continues tonight, Thursday then Tuesday through July 31, the program drew on the usually-viewed-as-classical-giant Bernstein's songwriting for the Broadway stage, most notably for "West Side Story" -- where he teamed with lyricist Stephen Sondheim -- but also "On the Town" and "Wonderful Town."
It was fitting, then, that the concert began and ended with "West Side" selections. As Peter Washington sculpted a rippling bass figure and non-related drummer Kenny Washington cracked a pulse via rim shots, Charlap -- in his fourth season as Jazz in July's musical director -- opened with a charged, Latin version of "America."
One by one, the horns arrived to make a statement. Tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene, trumpeter Brian Lynch and alto saxophonist Jon Gordon each played with brio, issuing anything from repeated hits of a single note to abstract-leaning gushes, as the rhythm team added heat.
That sextet, plus vocalist Kurt Elling, closed the evening with a tender "Somewhere," and an upbeat "Cool." Elling and Charlap began "Somewhere" as a duo, with the virtuosic Elling singing softly and emotively, Charlap finding the ideal accompaniment. The Washingtons came in -- they have made up the pianist's trio for 10 years -- for a spiffy Charlap solo in waltz time. Elling finished the piece with a whispered word, "Somewhere," held out in unmoving pitch for perhaps 15 seconds. Remarkable. The ensemble segued into "Cool"; here Elling's customary hip persona fit perfectly with the song's character.
Earlier, Elling crooned "Maria," shaded by waves of gorgeous horn colors via a subtle Lynch arrangement. Guest pianist Ted Rosenthal and the Washingtons essayed "The Jet Song." Kenny Washington delivered a march beat during the theme, then the rendition turned to bustling swing. Rosenthal scored with dancing chordal figures, short gallops, and a funky remark or two. Later, the pianist's jazz quintet version of "Something's Coming" offered core jazz flavor.
Other highlights: "Mambo" and "Jump" -- two sans-lyrics dance numbers from "West Side"; Rosenthal's bubbling, intricate "Wrong Note Rag," from "Wonderful Town"; and the classic ballads "Lucky to Be Me" and "Some Other Time," from "On the Town."
Upcoming in the series: the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, tonight; "Jazz Samba!," with Charlap, Claudio Roditi, Vera Mara, others, Tuesday; a "Tribute to George Shearing," with Charlap, Freddie Cole, Renee Rosnes, Joe Locke, Peter Bernstein, others, Wednesday; and "Lush Life: Billy Strayhorn," with Mulgrew Miller, Carol Sloane, Frank Wess, Terell Stafford, and more, July 31.