When is a big band not a big band? Perhaps the more important question is "What difference does it make?" Happiness employs an octet or nonette (depending on the cut) that sounds like a big band. It is these intermediate sized combos that have always intrigued me with their graceful passage form small combo to big band back to small combo again. This effect has been evident in the recordings of Marcus Roberts, Wes Anderson, Wycliffe Gordon, and Rodney Whitaker.
Pianist Eric Reed has produced several recordings for Candid, Mojazz, Impulse, GRP and now, Nagel Heyer.
Before his solo career, Reed Replaced Marcus Roberts in Marsalis's working band, making major contributions to Marsalis's Standard Time series ( Volume 5, Columbia 68921, 1998 and Volume 6, Columbia 69872, 1999) and his Live at the Village Vanguard collection (Columbia 69876). Reed has also supported the likes of Wycliffe Gordon ( Slidin' Home, Nagel Heyer 2001, 1999 and The Search, Nagel Heyer 2007, 2000), Mary Stallings ( Live At the Village Vanguard, MaxJazz 112, 2001), Joe Temperley ( Double Duke, Naxos Jazz 86032, 1998), and Clark Terry ( One on One, Chesky 198, 2000).
Reed stepsout and swings harder than the Marsalis allows himself to, encumbered as he is by his pedantic reverence for the music. Happiness is a full realization of the Ellington vision - extended pieces and suites, thematically related and firmly grounded in the blues. For this recording, Reed has fingered for service trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, whose beautiful obbligato on the ballad "Say Your Care" flows like pouring Mercury. Marcus Printup's muted trumpet digs deep on "Suite Sister: Fine and Brown," revealing the earthy smell of the blues. "Suite Sisters: Crazy Red" highlights the saxophone section, with altoists Wes Anderson and Julius Tolentino holding court with tenorist Wayne Escoffery pleading for mercy.
The lone standard, Ellington's "Mood Indigo" is played languidly. Reed reveals the influence of Marcus Roberts by adding a Monkian dissonance in a slow stride. Gordon takes the lead, playing perfectly. "Romantic Rag" is a throwback to Jelly Roll Morton in the piano and early Ellington in the orchestration. Reed's rhythm section is solid, as are his arrangements. Reed shines brightly in both his composition and performance. This superb recording deserves to show up in top-ten roundups at the end of the year.
Happiness; Three Dances: Island Grind, Latin Bump, Boogie Down; Say You Care; Suite Sister: Fine And Brown; Suite Sisters: Crazy Red; Suite Sisters: Black Beauty; Mood Indigo; Romantic Rag; Devil In A Dress; Someone Else's Love. (Total Time: 60:12)
Personnel: P>Eric Reed: Piano; Marcus Printup: Trumpet; Wycliffe Gordon: Trombone; Dion Tucker: Trombone; Wessell Anderson: Alto Saxophone; Julius Tolentino: Alto Saxophone; Wayne Escoffery: Tenor Saxophone. Soprano Saxophone; Walter Blanind, Jr.: Clarinet; Barak Mori: Bass; Rodney Green: Drums; Renato Thoms: Percussion.