Few things are as satisfying as a perfect piano trio recording. Here, Eric Reed’s 16th album as a leader, is such a document. It puts his expansive jazz vocabulary and wide-ranging sensibilities on full display. It is an album of sophistication, of maturity, and of deep swing.
It’s hard to believe Reed is only 36 years old. It seems as though he’s been with us for decades. A child prodigy who began playing the piano at age 2, he was only 19 when he both joined Wynton Marsalis’s septet and laid down his own recording session as a leader. In just 17 years he has amassed an impressive body of work worthy of an entire career.
Here, it must be said, is nothing fancy. It’s the kind of album critics are talking about when they say there’s nothing new in jazz, that it’s all been done before. But that attitude misses the whole point. Jazz is not always about breaking new ground. More important than trailblazing—which can sometimes amount to gimmickry—is the artist’s expression of individuality. In that sense, Here is a fully realized, wholly enjoyable 58 minutes of music.
The disc runs the gamut of musical emotions, moods, and conceits—from hard bop to balladry to gospel. Its influences range from the acknowledged legends (John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock) to underappreciated masters (Herbie Nichols, Billy Childs) while making a statement that is purely Reed’s own. And Reed will surprise you. It’s never clear when he’s about to take you next on his aural adventure. He can caress the keys in the most tender fashion and he can explode with ferocity.
Bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Willie Jones III are ideal supporting cast members throughout this effort, never showing off yet mixing up their work enough not only to keep things lively but to propel Reed along into new territory. Jones, who favors the ride cymbal, plays with an intensity that recalls Tony Williams but doesn’t mimic him. As with everything else MaxJazz puts out, this disc is beautifully recorded, bringing forth the low end of Whitaker’s bass and the crispness of Jones’ percussion. The listener is in the room with the band.
Here opens with a rousing version of Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” with Reed gradually constructing his premise and then sending arpeggios flying every which way. “Kokomo,” one of eight Reed originals among the album’s 11 tunes, provides a joyous two-minute segue to “I.C.H.N.,” a midtempo tribute to Nichols. “Hymn,” a pretty minute-and-a-half solo interlude, gives Reed—and us—a breather and serves as a bridge to the warm and lovely “Why?” that finds Reed channeling Childs’s more compelling work.
While the sidemen don’t get an awful lot of time to solo on Here, Reed and Jones engage in an intense musical dialogue to open Coltrane’s “26-2.” When Whitaker finally enters the fray, he effectively tethers the rowdiness that ensues between piano and drums. What contrast, then, to hear the trio take on the Rodgers and Hart ballad “It’s Easy to Remember.” Rather than keep time four to the measure, Whitaker plays long sustained notes here. Reed demonstrates great patience with this tune, choosing his notes discriminately, resisting any urge to fill spaces that are better left empty. Here again his maturity reveals itself. The album closes at its apex: “Ornate,” a 13-minute vamp on a simple figure that begins with great fury and settles into mellifluous beauty.
An artist can spend a lifetime trying to attain perfection. With Here, Reed has achieved it by the ripe old age of 36.