The Eric Reed Trio is one of the most compatible and snug groups in jazz today. From October 20-22, 2005, their appropriately billed "Singers Over Manhattan gig in the warm Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center put a spotlight on two young vocalists and one well-established singer. This writer witnessed the show on the 22nd.
The billing was on the mark because a clear view of the rainy sky above Central Park and the New York skyline served as backdrop for the singers, seen through the sloping 50-foot glass wall behind them. The Allen Room is a stunning amphitheater with an intimate feel. No bad seats to be found.
Reed's piano stroke is marveloushe caresses keys with joy spring lightness. The singers, Jennifer Sanon, Sachal Vasandani, and in-her-prime Carla Cook, were given white carpet treatment by the trio, rounded out by David Wong on bass, Willie Jones III playing drums.
The rhythm section hit with Benny Golson's "Stablemates, rolling, flowing the original's interplay between straight-ahead and Latin grooves. Jones impressed via his facility on traps as the taut trio swung effortlessly. On "Darn That Dream he aced one of the true tests of any young jazz drummer: Jones wielded brushes, on this ballad of mind/heart conflict, with confidence and taste.
Jennifer Sanon was just as Reed described: beautiful, pleasant, and palatable. Easy on the eyes as well as the ears, the young diva from Miami began with "What a Little Moonlight Can Do, a classic made so by Billie Holiday, with memorable versions rendered by Betty Carter, Carmen McRae and Nancy Wilson in decades past. Her choice of compositions, "Lullaby of Birdland, Darn That Dream, "All of Me, and "Them There Eyes showed courage by tackling tunes associated with great singers of yesteryear. Just 20 years young, Sanon has loads of potential. She warmed up during the set, fought through shyness, supplementing her delightful voice with shades of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, and even a slice of the guttural on "Comes Love.
She tapered off tones wonderfully. Her phrase endings evaporated into a mist. With more life experience, and continued shedding and performances with musicians the caliber of the Eric Reed Trio, Jennifer Sanon will develop into a formidable songstress.
Chicago born Sachal Vasandani is an exceptional twenty-something talent, a risk-taker who tells a song's story with subtlety, while maintaining good eye contact with an audience. He was "pitchy a few times (as Randy Jackson of American Idol might say), but mostly dazzled by way of smooth interpretations of "Anything Goes, "How Swell, and "September in the Rain. On Cole Porter's "Anything Goes he was by turns quizzical and sardonic; on the ballad, "I Could Have Told You So, devoted by him to the late Shirley Horn, Vasandani phrased gently, unfolding a scene of hurt and unrequited love.
The closing number of his set, Percy Mayfield's "Strange Things Happen, went over big with the audience because of Vasandani's energy and style, influenced by Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra; fortunately he's no mere imitator. He is a superior scat singer to boot.
As is Detroit-born Carla Cook, who dedicated an adaptation of Miles Davis's "So What to vocalese master Eddie Jefferson, author of the lyrics to Miles' melody and solo. Cook's take was a tour de force. On Duke Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See the Light she scatted while Wong walked the bass, her styling evoking Betty Carter more so than Jefferson. The cascading autumn rain pitter pattered against the windows behind Cook as she crooned "My One and Only Love with gradations of gospel and R&B versatility. The moon shone bright in the cool wet night when she sang the Brazilian "Like a Lover (O Cantador) with refined feeling and creative expression that comes from talent, practice and maturity.
Closing with a Billy Eckstine blues, Cook again called on the scat spirit of Betty Carter, yet brought some Dianne Reeves and Jon Hendricks onstage too, whereas Jones rode the beat as Wong selected sound notes while Reed two-hand attacked in a gregarious Errol Garner and Red Garland mode and mold.
Visit Eric Reed on the web.
Eric Reed: Bill King
Carla Cook: Mark Ladenson