Eric_lewis-hopscotch_span3
October 2005

Eric Lewis
Hopscotch [CD and DVD set]
Fortress

Eric Lewis waited an unusually long time to make his first album as a leader, especially considering that he has been touring and recording for 10 years with people like Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson and Elvin Jones. It is also unusual that his first release has both a music CD and a DVD in the box. The DVD provides several video presentations of the music, including an "Audio Atmosphere" version, which fills your TV screen with a light show only. The DVD also offers 5.1-channel surround sound and interviews with Marsalis, Lewis and his sidemen, Paul Beaudry and Ralph Penland.

Lewis is a piano-player's pianist. He possesses complete two-handed technical command of the keyboard and knowledge of jazz history that Marsalis calls "encyclopedic and correct." His extraordinary eclecticism is not separate from his showmanship. As he proceeds through a richly varied program of 10 originals, two standards and a hymn, bravura tours de force dominate. It also feels like he is displaying, one at a time, every considerable trick in his bag. Genres from every decade since 1920 fly by, including James P. Johnson, Thelonious Monk, the blues and the church.

But if there is a self-conscious, even academic quality to Lewis' methods, he generates undeniable excitement. It is exhilarating to watch him-and we do get to watch him-tear up "Cherokee" at warp speed and then decelerate to reassemble it. The title track is masterfully manipulated, by locked hands repeating rhythmic figures, from quietude to near-frenzy and back again.

Cons of the DVD: the stiff, silly hosts of the TV-show segment and the distracting light show, which the producers believe is "revolutionary" but which is older than the Summer of Love. Pros: the ambient dimension added by the 5.1-channel sound and the illuminating interviews with four articulate, serious people.

Originally published in October 2005
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