Pianist Eric Reed has a striking, identifiable style that is expressive and swinging yet can also be lyrical or introspective. Whether part of Wynton Marsalis’ band or working with great singers (Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves) and jazz giants (Benny Carter, Clark Terry), Reed’s solos and accompaniment always seem to add a fresh, vital component. On this collection of Thelonious Monk repertoire, he carefully balances personal touches with the signature twists, changes and melodic quirks that are part of the icon’s appeal. He also deftly balances lesser-performed pieces (“Ask Me Now,” “Ugly Beauty,” “Reflections”) with familiar selections (“‘Round Midnight,” “Blue Monk”), while foregoing a couple numbers that usually appear on this type of session (“Straight No Chaser,” “Epistrophy”).
Reed has ideal mates in bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer McClenty Hunter; Wolfe’s playing is easy and fluid, Hunter’s flexible and steady. Whether the song requires aggression (“Eronel,” “The Dancing Monk”) or complementary embellishment (“Light Blue,” “Blue Monk,” “Ruby, My Dear”) they mesh effortlessly in ensemble parts and also excel in solo sections. While Reed will occasionally accelerate a tune’s pace or add some extra rhythmic punch, he doesn’t tamper with Monk’s beloved melodies. The flourishes most often arrive near the end or in the midst of solos, when he scampers through changes and eases his way back into the original’s familiar patterns.
Ultimately Eric Reed honors Monk’s compositions without resorting to straight repertory, blatant imitation or exaggerated treatments. It’s a respectful yet inventive method, and his disc represents the finest possible tribute to a genius and innovator.