Archive for eric reed

What’s New (and Good) from WJ3 Records

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , on November 21, 2017 by curtjazz

WJ3 Records is another of the cadre of the small, but mighty, jazz record labels that have cropped up in our post-CD society. Founded and helmed by drummer Willie Jones III, WJ3 releases around 3 – 4 new projects each year, featuring top flight mainstream jazz masters such as pianists Cyrus Chestnut and Eric Reed, L.A. based guitarist Jacques Lesure and Mr. Jones, himself. I first became hip to WJ3 about a decade ago, when I was assigned by a publication, to review a couple of their new releases. I can honestly say, that I’ve never heard a bad album from any of their artists.

Here now is a review of two recent WJ3 releases:

Jacques Lesure – For the Love of You

jacques lesureJacques Lesure…educator, actor, social media raconteur, and above all, master guitarist. Though his name is still unfamiliar to many, Mr. Lesure has been part of the music scene for over 30 years. With an inviting, single-note guitar line that is reminiscent of Grant Green, but infused with the warmth of a Kenny Burrell, Jacques Lesure, is always worth listening to, be it live or on one of his recordings, the last three of which have been on WJ3, including his latest, For the Love of You.

The title of the album should give you a hint about the vibe. Whereas his two prior efforts When She Smiles and Camaraderie, were fine, straight-ahead blowing sessions, For the Love of You,  is more accessible, but just as good; featuring several, mid-tempo romantic tracks, with titles straight out of pop radio. It’s a perfect antidote to a long day. Mr. Lesure is as always, in top form, as are his band mates, pianist Eric Reed, bassist Tony Dumas and WJ3’s chief, Willie Jones III, on drums.

Strong performances abound, including a bright, infectious version of “The Lamp is Low”, with a tasty solo by Mr. Reed; “Put On a Happy Face”, on which Lesure builds a simple starting line, layer by layer, into a very nice solo. His tribute to one of his musical idols, “That’s Mr. Burrell, Thank You”, is a head nodding, finger snapping blues, that is pure fun. It will be a definite crowd favorite during his live performances. The centerpiece is Cedar Walton’s anthemic classic, “Holy Land”. I’ve heard many versions of this tune over the years; this is one of the best. Following the familiar opening theme, Mr. Lesure digs down deep and delivers a blistering solo, which clearly inspires Reed, who then matches Lesure’s virtuosity in his turn.  Dumas and Jones take strong turns before all four musicians trade eights until the close.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars – Another first-rate album from Jacques Lesure. It will appeal to fans of all categories of jazz.

 

Willie Jones III – My Point Is…

willie jones iiiWillie Jones III is one busy cat, in addition to leading his own group and running WJ3 records, he also is a first call sideman and producer on numerous projects outside of his label. If he is spreading himself too thin, it certainly is not in evidence on My Point Is…, his seventh album as a leader. This protégé of Albert “Tootie” Heath, recorded this album with some of his own label’s top talent, who also happen to be some of the best in the current jazz world; trumpet master Eddie Henderson, the criminally underrated Ralph Moore on tenor, the legendary Buster Williams on bass and the soon to be legendary Eric Reed, on piano.

I first became a fan of Mr. Jones, when I reviewed his fourth album, The Next Phase. The first thing I noticed was Jones’ rock solid timing and that even on ballads, he swings like mad. Nothing in that respect has changed since 2010. Like two of my other favorite working drummers – Kobie Watkins and Ocie Davis, Jones has an innate gift for pushing the musicians playing with him, while still doing things that are unfailingly rhythmically interesting.

The selections are a nice mix of Jones’ originals, along with a few from the band and one each by Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock. “Manhattan Melodies” a Reed composition from about 20 years ago, open the disc on a high note. I’ve heard three versions of this tune over the years and this one is my favorite. The theme takes on new life in the hands of the two horn players, who punch it up with strong solos. Buster Williams’ ballad, “Christina”, offers a nice opportunity for a muted Henderson to remind us of the good ways that Miles influenced him. “The Maze”, a tune that Herbie wrote for his debut album, is given a fresh reading here. The sinuous backbeat set by Jones, followed by Reed’s funky solo, pulled me right in. Yes, I was sitting at the keyboard with eyes closed and head nodding. I see an interesting hip-hop sample in this track’s future. The title cut is the best thing on the album, with Williams and Jones feathering an intricate nest for some sweet mute work by Eddie and a rolling piano solo from Reed. This was, and still is, on heavy rotation in my playlist.

I’ve never gone wrong with a Willie Jones III album and My Point Is… is no exception. Solid writing, first rate playing and a final product, that is a fine example of modern jazz.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars. Another straight-ahead jazz winner from Willie Jones III and WJ3 Records.

Album Review: Eric Reed – Reflections of a Grateful Heart

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , on January 12, 2014 by curtjazz

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.

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2011 – The Final List

Posted in CD Reviews, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2011 by curtjazz

About six months ago, I posted a halftime list of my favorite 2011 jazz recordings heard between January and July.  I promised to be back around now to fill out the list with what I experienced over the last six months.  My original intent was to pare that list down to a final dozen or so, spanning the entire year…

Well, I changed my mind y’all. Instead, we’re going to add another ten to that first list, making it a Top 20.  And, like last year, there was an excellent 2010 disc that I completely missed until 2011. It will be included as well.

As a reminder, here are albums from the July post. You can see/read the entire July post HERE.

So here they are, in alpha order by album title – my favorite jazz discs from the second half of this year:

Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook – Miguel Zenón (Marsalis Music) – He’s not prone to ostentatious self promotion, but this Guggenheim and MacArthur fellow has quietly become one of the most important saxophonists in jazz today.  Each of his albums has topped the previous one; taking his artistry to a new place and keeping us, the audience, on the edge of our seats. Alma Adentro, is the exploration of the music of five composers, who are unknown in the U.S. but very important in Puerto Rican musical lore. It’s not “Latin Jazz” in the sense that we’ve come to know it, but is outstanding music that broadened my horizons.

BitchesNicholas Payton (In + Out Records) – Yes, the title did make me wince a little, but the music made me smile, a lot.  This has been an interesting year for Mr. Payton, as his blunt, insightful and often profane musings have made him one of the more controversial and compelling figures in the world of jazz social media.  Not surprisingly, this album has also caused its share of controversy, raising eyebrows in the same way that In a Silent Way, another album with a dream-like vibe, did in 1969.  Payton composed every song, played every instrument and sings on many of the tracks (quite well, I might add), more than holding his own with some top-drawer guests, like Esperanza Spalding and Cassandra Wilson.  If you’re looking for “jazz” of the type that Payton played on his early Verve albums, you won’t find it here. Bitches has more in common with mid-70’s ballad driven R & B and with neo-soul. But as someone who grew up with the former and has developed a keen appreciation for the latter, I really dug this album.

Black Lace Freudian Slip – René Marie (Motema Music)

René Marie was very quiet for a while after her 2008 controversies, but she is back with a vengeance; releasing not one but two outstanding albums in 2011. The first; Voice of My Beautiful Country, (which was on our first “Best of” list) was a tribute to patriotic and traditional standards. Black Lace Freudian Slip is mostly comprised of Marie originals, including the title track, which is every bit as sly and sexy as the title suggests. The two discs may be lyrical opposites but the music on both is outstanding. Don’t try to choose between them, get them both.

For All Those Living – Sheryl Bailey (Pure Music Records)

Guitarist Sheryl Bailey gets better with every recording. She follows up last year’s impressive big band outing,  A New Promise, with a terrific quartet disc that displays her impressive chops and full-bodied swing to great advantage.  The Emily Remler comparisons are easy to make, but I think that that’s too limiting.  Sheryl Bailey has the potential to outshine her role model, whose untimely death halted her artistic growth. Bump the gender limitations; Ms. Bailey is one of the best jazz guitarists working today, period. This disc also has its heart in the right place as 20% of the proceeds from all sales will be donated to Ronald McDonald House.

The Mosaic Project – Terri Lyne Carrington (Concord Records)

As I stated in my earlier review of this album, The Mosaic Project is Terri Lyne Carrington’s most completely realized project, by a mile. It also is one of the best jazz works of the year by any artist. Click HERE to see my full post about it.

Pinnacle: Live and Unreleased from Keystone Korner – Freddie Hubbard (Resonance Records)

What a find this was by Resonance Records! Hubbard, at the top of his game in 1980 on performances compiled from summer and fall appearances at the legendary San Francisco club.  The version of “The Intrepid Fox” that opens the album, is jaw dropping. What follows is just as good, including the only known recording of Hub playing “Giant Steps”. The title says it all.

Road Shows Volume 2 – Sonny Rollins (Doxy/EmArcy)

I was one of the few who liked, but didn’t love Road Shows Volume 1; mostly because of the unevenness of the 30 years worth of performances. Volume 2’s tracks by contrast, were all recorded during 2010, most of them during Newk’s already legendary 80th birthday concert, the remaining two a month later in Japan.  Sonny is in very fine form and the guest stars, including Roy Haynes, Roy Hargrove, Jim Hall, Christian McBride and Ornette Coleman, in his first ever public performance with Rollins, all rise to the occasion. Sonny Rollins proves once again, that age ain’t nothin’ but a number.

Something Beautiful – Eric Reed (WJ3 Records)

Something Beautiful is Eric Reed doing what he does best; playing in a trio setting. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over twenty years since Reed first debuted with Wynton, but in those years he has grown from teenaged prodigy to one of the best pianists of his generation, with an impeccable melodic sense that accompanies his gospel influenced chord structure.  Something Beautiful consists mostly of songs by others, from Berlin to Brubeck to Billy Joel; all of them sounding as unsullied as if they were being played for the first time.

 

Tirtha – Vijay Iyer (ACT)

Tirtha is the self titled debut of pianist Vijay Iyer’s latest trio, which also includes tabla player Nitin Mitta and guitarist Prasanna.  As expected, the album has a strong South Asian influence, but I feel that slapping a term such as “Indian Jazz” on this music is almost insulting in its limitations.  Their sound is alive and its intricacies grow with every hearing.   Iyer has never been afraid to challenge conventions and he usually creates something fresh in the process. He and his Tirtha band mates have done so here.  In a genre often chided for being stale, Tirtha is a welcome breath of fresh air.

 

Triumph of the Heavy Volumes 1 & 2 – Marcus Strickland (Strick Music/CDBY)

Strickland is another of those young saxophonists who give me hope for the future whenever I hear him blow.  On this two disc set (gutsy for a relatively unknown artist), he brings the goods on tenor, alto, soprano and clarinet.  Disc 2 is a live trio set with Marcus’ twin brother E.J. on drums and up and coming bassist Ben Williams. They push the boundaries of convention to the limits, with a hard-driving sound that is spare, but never thin.  On Disc 1, recorded eight months later, they add David Bryant, a young Tyner influenced pianist with mad promise, to the mix.  Bryant’s angular harmonies are the main reason I have a slight preference for the studio set but it doesn’t really matter, because neither disc has left heavy rotation in my iPod since I bought them.

And a 2010 disc that I missed…

Introducing Triveni – Avishai Cohen (Anzic)

I’m continuing the tradition that I started last year of recognizing an outstanding disc released in the previous year that managed to escape my ears until the current one.  Triveni was released in September 2010. It’s a trio session led by the trumpet playing brother of Anat Cohen, who has garnered renown for her work on sax and clarinet.  Avishai Cohen is one of two Israeli jazzmen working today who share the same name (the other plays bass) and as of now, he’s the lesser known of the two.  This strong outing should do something to change that. Trumpet/bass/drums trio sessions are rare but Cohen is more than up to the task, collaborating with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits on originals and standards that mine the depths of hard bop, swing, funk with a nice dose of avant-garde as well.  Cohen is not going to bowl you over with flights into the upper register but the impressiveness of his facility and inventiveness in the mid range is worth a dozen high notes. Many thanks to Canadian journalist/pianist Peter Hum for pulling my coat about this one.

Notable Mentions

Here are a few more fine discs from 2011 that are worth a listen or ten. Don’t pass them up if you have a chance:

  • A Boy’s Journey Peter Hum Quintet (self-released) The knowledgeable and witty jazz journalist is also a very fine pianist. An impressive debut recording.
  • Parallel Lives Andrea Wolper (Jazzed Media) – This vocalist grows more impressive with each album.  Her coolly inviting mix of originals with rarely heard standards are a perfect tonic for a tough world. 
  • State of Art – Ben Williams (Concord Jazz) – The Monk Competition winner drops a formidable blend of the new and the traditional on his first disc.  It’s fresh, it’s exciting and I want to hear more.
  • Sweet Thunder (Duke & Shak) – Delfeayo Marsalis (Troubador Jass) – Delfeayo does The Duke proud on this hard-swinging octet version of Such Sweet Thunder. It’s the year’s best album from someone named Marsalis (Read the full review post HERE)
  • When the Heart Emerges Glistening  Ambrose Akinmusire (Blue Note) – A rare case of a much-hyped major label debut living up to expectations. Akinmusire is the real deal; and the greatest thing is that he’s nobody’s clone.

And that’s how things looked this year from my “plush” Charlotte studio/mancave.  Tracks from these albums and more will be heard on Curt’s Café WebJazz Radio, starting on December 27 and continuing on through the month of January.  Your thoughts, comments and criticisms are always welcome and your spam is always deleted.

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts this year. I don’t take your support for granted. I hope you’ll stick around for what I expect will be an interesting 2012.

A Happy and Healthy Holiday Season to all of you. 

Until the next time, the jazz continues…