Eric Lewis: Hopscotch

Woodrow Wilkins By

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Eric Lewis
Fortress Records

Sound is best reserved for the ears. I can appreciate videos of concerts or even studio sessions as much as the next guy, but something about the Hopscotch DVD by jazz pianist Eric Lewis leaves me with the question: Why bother? Lewis is a more-than-competent musician, having toured with Marsalis and Cassandra Wilson. He also performed for President Clinton at the 1996 Democratic National Convention and on the 1998 live television broadcast from the White House called "Jazz Democracy." So one has to wonder about the strategy behind making this type of video presentation.

The good news is the companion CD is a treat. Lewis is joined by Paul Beaudry on bass and Ralph Penland on drums. The fourteen-song CD, including a bonus track that's not on the DVD, runs about fifty minutes. Most of the songs are straightforward as Lewis and his bandmates complement one another in direct fashion. The title song, one of the longer pieces on this outing, is one of the best. Lewis delivers some of the most beautiful notes in near-symphonic fashion while Beaudry and Penland give just enough personality to let us know they're deep into it, but without distracting us from Lewis. The same could be said for the entire disc. Lewis offers plenty of room for his sidemen to stretch out, but maintains the lead throughout. While Lewis and company get their groove on, the music is more of the ambient variety—relaxing, but not sleep-inducing.

The accompanying DVD includes thirteen video performances with "Audio Atmosphere as a background setting option, the TV show "Eric Lewis Live from the Club at Blue Plain, a conversation with Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, an interview with Lewis, and additional interviews with Beaudry and Penland. The "Blue Plain video shows the trio in a live performance, with members of the audience dancing. It's nicely done but has no repeat play value. The song videos are little more than the trio playing just as they did in the club—the main difference being that instead of an audience, the colorful "Audio Atmosphere graphics provide the backdrop.

Within the first minute or so, you've seen all there is to see—which begs the question: What's the point? Musicians may appreciate the video, for it allows them to see Lewis and his sidemen in action. But for the average listener, it loses its zest in about three minutes.

Comprised mostly of original songs, Hopscotch is definitely a musical treat. A stand-alone CD would definitely be a keeper. Unfortunately, not even the interviews can salvage the DVD from its blandness. Packaging the two together may not have been the wisest move.

Tracks: Alasum; Love Letters; Calamari; Puerto Rico; Pinocchio; Hopscotch; The Philly Groove; Monk; Cherokee; Thanksgiving; The Church Picnic; Blessed Assurance; Ruth in Blue; I'll Always Miss You.

Personnel: Eric Lewis: piano; Paul Beaudry: bass; Ralph Penland: drums.

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