Eric Reed, piano
To send the audience home humming the melody has always been the goal of the Broadway composer. Such a feat requires great melodies, and pianist Eric Reed has provided us with a selection of some of the best on the album, Pure Imagination. Known for his work with Wynton Marsalis, Eric Reed has an obvious love of great melody and, despite sophisticated arrangements and a stellar cast of Reginald Veal on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums, it is the melodies on this album that shine.
The album is presented much like a Broadway soundtrack, complete with an overture, finale and a possible plot synopsis. Overture ends with the verse of Maria, a perfect segue to a Latin treatment of Bernstein's gem from West Side Story. The arrangement pays respect to the beautiful melody, while the light-hearted rhythm avoids the trap of becoming overly sentimental. The track eventually settles into a soft, driving swing. This trio has the ability to make the listener feel comfortable. Later, a bluesy rendition of Hello, Young Lovers provides the trio with a waltz to blow on. The unison blues lick during the piano solo is sure to grab the listener's attention.
There are a number of Broadway tunes that jazz musicians have shied away from over the years - songs that do not easily lend themselves to jazz interpretations. A perfect example is Stephen Sondheim's Send In The Clowns. This title evokes a certain sound in the mind's ear, a sound quite different from Eric Reed's blues/rock version. Full marks for venturing into uncharted territory!
Perhaps the most intimate moment onPure Imagination is a solo piano rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein's You'll Never Walk Alone. The short gospel treatment builds for two minutes, makes you sit up straight, and check over your shoulder to see if someone's there.
The final tune of the set is a calypso treatment of the Gershwins' I Got Rhythm. Gregory Hutchinson's solo breaks are featured, and wrap up the album with an exclamation point.
While the idea of an overture and a finale are nice, they are unnecessary. After one or two times through the album, I found myself starting on track two, skipping the overture. The finale reminds me of Broadway's exit music; it's polite to sit in your seat until its finished, but nobody really cares.
Pure Imagination does suffer from a slight case of over-arrangement. In particular, the first half of the CD gets predictable and binds the soloists with strict limitations. At times, I got the feeling the trio was a little shaky in ensemble. Not that any one player appeared unfamiliar with the charts, but the whole group seemed, at times, a little tentative.
The sound? As usual, Producer Tommy LiPuma has left his indelible mark on another superb Impulse release. Instruments sound very natural and the soundstage is captured from a realistic perspective.
On a musical and technical level, Pure Imagination is a welcome addition to the jazz library. Eric Reed has all the tools to become one of the great piano players in jazz, and has surrounded himself with the right people to do so. If there is one impression with which this album left me, it is that each track has it's own life. Each of these Broadway classics has a unique sound in the hands of Eric Reed, and I found it easy to remember each tune as its own entity. Not every jazz CD leaves you humming the melody.
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