I have always admired the piano playing of Eric Reed. I first encountered his music with his two albums on MoJazz (“It’s All Right To Swing”, 1993, and “The Swing And I”, 1995); both records brimming with originality and an impeccably soulful approach. Both also including intense Gospel moments, whether on a beautiful version of “Come Sunday” with vocals by Carolyn Johnson-White, or “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord” with Eddie Bailey. He later excelled with a brutally swinging “Pure Imagination” (1998), a wonderful tribute to New York (“Manhattan Melodies”, 1999), and a full Gospel-themed album (“Mercy And Grace”, 2003). And don’t forget his Monk-related albums for the Savant label or the great HighNote albums accompanying singer Mary Stallings.
Now he’s back with his brandnew “Black, Brown, And Blue” opus, his tribute to black and brown composers and songwriters, released on the brilliant Smoke Sessions label, and recorded with his new trio consisting of Luca Alemanno on bass, and Reggie Quinerly on drums. Vocalist and minister Calvin Rhone is featured on a powerful, once again Gospel-infused version of “Lean On Me”, where Eric accompanies with his strong and affirmative playing. The overall mood on the album is quiet, calm, introspective, earnest, personal, free, without any flourishes. He has come up with one of the most beautiful versions of “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” I have heard in ages. He couples Horace Silver’s “Peace” with McCoy Tyner’s “Search For Peace” and thus, manages to conjure up a feeling of hope and trust with his amazing knack for creating the perfect surrounding.
There is an utterly gorgeous version of “Christina”, written by bassist Buster Williams (check the version of the group Sphere, of which Buster was a member, on “Flight Path” from 1983), oozing sensitivity and class and tenderness. His playing here is totally at ease and extremely comforting and warm. We can’t get enough of this. I think his version of the recently passed Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” shows amazing depth and wisdom and “Cheryl Ann”, written by Buddy Collette and released on “Man Of Many Parts” (1956), echoes the “blue” in this album’s title. Eric’s playing here is pretty lyrical and mesmerizing, almost instantly hypnotizing you with its bittersweet notion. Tempo is slightly up for the Benny Golson classic “Along Came Betty”, another one which is mastered here in perfect unison with its topic and a refreshing and incandescent approach. Brilliant stuff.
And there is still more to explore. It seems that Eric can’t keep his hands off Monk’s material, so he includes the master’s “Ugly Beauty” with an elegantly swinging version. We also get a sky-reaching version of Stevie’s “Pastime Paradise”, sung by Gospel great David Daughtry. Both his accompanists add original compositions as well. Reggie contributes the longing ballad “Variation Twenty-Four”. Its bluer than blue vibe is really hard to resist. Luca adds “One For E” to the proceedings, another caressing and endearing piece with a lot of heart and soul. In the press release, Eric is quoted as saying: “It’s time for me to just go ahead and be completely authentic in every aspect of my life. That includes, but is not limited to, being more open about my sexuality and proactively moving into spaces connected with the LGBTQ+ community…I’m freer than I’ve ever been in my personal life, and I’m freer than I’ve ever been in my music. I’m accepting who I am. I love who I am.” Listening to the album, it’s almost as if you’re taking part of this process and conclusion.