Album Review: Eric Reed – Reflections of a Grateful Heart

This review first appeared in the January 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s JazzInside Magazine

Eric Reed

Eric Reed - Reflections of a Grateful Heart

REFLECTIONS OF A GRATEFUL HEART – WJ3 Records WJ31015 www.williejones3.com  I Love The Lord; In Case You’ve Forgotten; Changed; Psalm 8; ‘Tis So Sweet; Hymn; New Morning; This Day; God Cares; Prayer; Spiritual; I Love You Lord Today/We Praise You Lord

PERSONNEL: Eric Reed, piano

By Curtis Davenport

Like many other fine jazz pianists before him, Eric Reed did not spring forth from the womb playing bop or swing. Though you clearly can hear Monk, Powell, Ellington, John Lewis and others in his style, his first piano idols were men such as Thomas Whitfield, James Cleveland, Richard Smallwood, Edwin Hawkins and others; artists whose names are virtually unknown in jazz but who are legends in the world of gospel music.  This should come as no surprise because Mr. Reed is the son of a minister, who started playing piano at the age of two and cut his musical teeth playing in his father’s storefront church. The jazz influences came later. So like his contemporary, Cyrus Chestnut and his predecessors like Bobby Timmons, Mr. Reed’s sound is never too far from the church. His latest project Reflections of a Grateful Heart is as the title implies, a reverent appreciation, first of God and then of the music of the under-appreciated masters of the music that has meant so much to him, spiritually and stylistically.

This is not Reed’s first “All-Gospel” recording; 2009’s Stand! was a swinging trio date featuring original Reed compositions with titles that left no doubt as to their subject matter.  Mercy and Grace from 2003 was like Reflections of a Grateful Heart, a solo piano album but it concentrated on traditional spirituals such as “Jesus Loves Me” and “Wade in the Water”.  Reflections… is an amalgam of its predecessors, a solo piano album that features compositions by some of the aforementioned influences and some Reed originals. But where the two prior albums were a “church service”, mixing the uptempo foot-stompers with the slower pieces; Reflections… is worship time. The song selections are obviously very personal and reverential.  We the listeners are afforded the opportunity to listen in as Mr. Reed spends intimate time speaking to and thanking God for the great gifts that He has given him.

Reed chose two compositions by Richard Smallwood a classically trained pianist, who writes some of today’s most beautiful Gospel songs. The stately “I Love the Lord” opens the album with Reed taking his time, building the theme toward a hushed crescendo. A lesser pianist might have given in to the temptation to play with abandon. The fact that Mr. Reed doesn’t, adds to the effectiveness of the performance.  “Psalm 8” is the other Smallwood piece. Here we hear a little more of Reed, the jazz pianist as he draws the blues chords in the melody to the fore. The opening words of the Psalm (“O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth…”) permeate Reed’s playing. Thomas Whitfield, another brilliant contemporary Gospel composer, who died far too young, is represented by “In Case You’ve Forgotten”. Reed opens his version with a quote from John Lewis’ classic “Django” before moving into the rich melody.  Mr. Reed also leaves some room for his own impressive non-secular compositions, including “New Morning” and “Prayer”, which had been performed on Stand! Stripped of any bass and drum adornments, these two beautiful works become even more personal. I don’t know if lyrics have been composed for either of these pieces but they certainly cry out for them. The time of devotion closes with a medley of “I Love You Lord Today”, one of the more popular contemporary worship songs and Reed’s own “We Praise You Lord”. The two pieces mesh together seamlessly, to leave instill a feeling of overwhelming peace and hope in those who have experienced this album.

Eric Reed’s Reflections of a Grateful Heart is an artistic statement of rare beauty. We often hear artists perform for us but how often do we get to hear an artist bare his soul? As someone who shares Mr. Reed’s religious beliefs, I was as much moved by the worship experience as I was by Mr. Reed’s stellar piano playing.

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