Eric Reed: Something Beautiful (2011)
Eric Reed's Something Beautiful is well-named: a collection of mostly standards, delivered with sensitive hands and unerring taste. The pianist shows a knack for choosing great material, mostly staying away from jazz's grossly overplayed warhorses in favor of lesser-known material that is, nonetheless, classic and elegant.
The album offers a unified atmosphere of down- and mid-tempo melodiessometimes melancholy, sometimes bouncy, and occasionally even uplifting. Jesse Tabish's "Black Tables" is almost hymn-like, with deep left-handed chords creating gravity under the melody, as drummer Rodney Green conveys the rhythm on the low toms. As he works out, Reed makes sure to allow a pausealmost breathing roombetween ideas, preventing his improvisations from overwhelming the soft forward urge of the song.
It takes a moment to grasp the melody of Billy Joel's "Honesty," with the almost pace diminished to a dirge. But it's there, and it turns out to be one of the best interpretations on the album. With only bassist Reuben Rogers accompanying, Reed draws this familiar pop song into exceptional new territory, with a deep connection to the music, and a delivery that places its emphasis on poignancy rather than pyrotechnics. It's a masterful performance.
Reed's own compositions are equal to his interpretations and fit quite naturally with the rest of the album. The title track bounces a little more, with a prominent bass line, an accessible melody, and some really tight syncopation. Again, Reed employs those subtle pauses in the rhythm and in his improvisational delivery, adding an ingenious effect to an already well-crafted tune. The closing "If I Knew You," performed solo, returns to the larghissimo pace employed in "Honesty," with largely the same effect. Reed has a true feel for these ballads, playing with enough self-restraint to allow the melodies to shine throughemploying his considerable technique in the service of the piece, but never the other way around. That's a difficult balancing act, and one he manages with aplomb. If there's any criticism of his original compositions it's that there aren't more of them.
Reed's last effort, The Dancing Monk (Savant, 2011), was also an excellent effort, but Something Beautiful is better. Constrained by a single composer, Reed was forced to concede some of his own stylistic ground to compositions that that could never be mistaken for anyone other than Thelonious Monk. Here, he's free to interpret the material in his own style, and as a result he delivers a much more passionate performance.
It has been noted that ballads can be the most difficult songs to master because of the subtlety involved. If that is the case then Something Beautiful represents the performance of a truly gifted and sensitive balladeer.
Track Listing: Sun Out; In Your Own Sweet Way; Black Tables; How Deep Is The Ocean?; I Still Believe In You; Lift Up Your Hands To The Lord; Mad About The Boy; Citadel; Honesty; Something Beautiful; If I Knew You.
Personnel: Eric Reed: piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Rodney Green: drums.
Record Label: WJ3 Records
Style: Modern Jazz