Pianist Eric Lewis makes an anticipated solo debut in a classic piano trio setting, backed by newcomer Paul Beaudry (bass) and veteran Ralph Penland (drums). The Camden, New Jersey native studied classically from a very young age before his interest turned to jazz around twelve, when he "began to discover girls weren't icky.
That tidbit and more emerge in an engaging interview which comprises much of the best part of the DVD. Credit or blame goes to director/executive producer Trevor Lawrence for visuals, staging, and cornball commentary bordering on kitschy and more importantly that constantly intrude on the players and the music. (Uh, keep it simple, Mr. Lawrence, keep it simple!) Other interviews with the sidemen and Wynton Marsalis (an enthusiastic advocate of Lewis) are interesting as they consider jazz and the creative process, calling it "a journey in communication together and that "it can be pretty and crazy but not ugly and crazy.
Very fortunately the CD which accompanies the DVD offers the opportunity simply to listen without distractions to what Lewis can do. The title piece, one of his own compositions which comprise most of the set, is by turns lyrical and tinged with funk and blues. It's quickly evident that he knows music. One feels that grounding immediately and echoes of of sounds as diverse as Garner and Shorter. However, it's the late, great drummer Elvin Jones, in whose band he played for two years whom Lewis credits as a major influence.
If overall one doesn't yet hear a sound markedly identifiable as Lewis' own, this 1999 winner of the Thelonious Monk International Piano competition, at 26, clearly has chops. Some might consider it to be damning with faint praise to say he's enjoyable listening. This CD serves as an introduction to his work and I expect that with time more will be revealed.
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. Approximate running time: 60 minutes.
Personnel: Eric Lewis: piano; Paul Beaudry: bass; Ralph Penland: drums.
Note: Hopscotch can be purchased from www.theclubatbluepalm.com by pressing "The Artists" button at the top of the page, selecting the Eric Lewis "Read More" button and pressing "Order Now."