I hesitate to call Eric Lewis’ new album a welcome return to straight-ahead jazz—even though that’s precisely what And to the Republic is. Phrasing it that way, though, feels uncomfortably close to throwing in with the more conservative factions of the jazz community, those who dismiss any deviation from the state of the art circa 1959 as a corruption of the ideal.
What was wrong with the “rockjazz” that Lewis—or ELEW, as he continues to bill himself—played and hyped over the last several years was not the fact that he deviated from the path that had led him through apprenticeships with Elvin Jones, Wynton Marsalis and Cassandra Wilson. It was that a gifted pianist with an obviously inventive and savvy imagination dumbed down his talents to seize the spotlight with a garish and empty spectacle. What’s even more disappointing is how well it worked.