Eric Reed's gifts have never been in doubt, whether playing Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" on a Wynton Marsalis educational videoor very original swing piano, deliberately jazzless gospel or conteporary jazz in duet with the neglected Johnny O'Neal on the ad lib concert released as Rockin' the Spirit (Chesky, 2005). He was a standout on Joe Chambers' Urban Grooves (441 Records, 2003), as when playing Jelly Roll Morton and other music with Marsalis.
Reed can play amazingly over a vast stylistic rangesolo, with rhythm, or as an accompanist. The last of these doesn't matter much on this new trio set. Nor does his range. Maybe the programming of a large proportion of original tunes accounts for the lack of sparks, at least in relation to standards Reed has set elsewhere. With the possible exception of a long, involved final track, "Ornate," this isn't much of an advance from his debut, Soldier's Hymn (Candid, 1999).
Here is a nice enough piano trio album on the subdued side, but it tends to the excessively tasteful. As ever, Reed gets a wonderful sound from the piano, phrasing and shading beautifully. Paradoxically, though, the Rodgers and Hart ballad "It's Easy to Remember" draws more expression from Reed than his own music, even the superficially livelier items. There's something oblique in its expression. Rather than being any sort of pastiche of Herbie Nichols' highly distinctive and original music, the Nichols tribute "I.C.H.N." offers only echoed phrases within an otherwise none too distinctive composition and performance. The drummer may at times be trying to compensate, but Reed is quietly below his valiant level of liveliness.
Which is to say that this is a sort of performance commonly spoken of as having nothing wrong with it. It has a promising start in the enterprising selection of Benny Golson's "Stablemates," but by and large its attempts at great subtlety sound somewhat oblique, lacking expression. Was it Reed's mood at the time of the recording, or misjudged preparation? Actually, other Reed piano trio CDs have also fallen a little short on the excitement front. Is he maybe not the ideal trio leader on a studio date? Here is still not a bad set, except by the standards that Reed has suggested fairly strongly elsewhere.
Track Listing: Stablemates; Kokomo; I.C.H.N.; Hymn; Why?; 26-2 ; Wish (For My Father); It's Easy To Remember; I Got Nothin'; Is That...?; Ornate
Personnel: Eric Reed: piano; Rodney Whitaker: bass; Willie Jones III: drums.