Eric Reed CD THE BADDEST MONK reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Eric Reed. The Baddest Monk. Savant.

Eric Reed blew into Toronto on a cold  November night  in 2004 to stand in for Cyrus Chestnut, whose mother had suddenly passed. Eric was alone in the empty club with bassist Steve Wallace when I got there with my photographer, and he ended up playing a whole set just for us and the owner. That’s how bad a cat he is.

I like it and I get it when Reed writes in the liner notes to this, his 20th CD as a leader, words to disclaim a Monk ‘tribute’ approach: he characterizes the group’s way as ‘irreverent…we had our way with Monk.”

“Rhythm-a-Ning” opens with a familiar ostinato Monk vamp in Eric’s piano followed by an kind of off-colour harmony in the horns (Seamus Blake, ts; Etienne Charles, tr.) that is not quite dissonant but somewhat slanted in a new direction. Mr. Reed’s piano chorus improvises solo in a Monkeyish way but more florid than chunky, saving the percussive stuff for comping behind the horn. Very interesting.

“Epistrophy” comes in on the piano teasing and whimsical stitched with Henry Cole’s rim/sticks and snare crackles. Matt Clohesy on gets 5 short solos assorted among vignettes by the other players. Interesting mix of soloists and sections, very.

Eric gets “Green Chimneys” flying like a Cessna among the curiously hollow, gnarly-jointed rhythms of his sidemen. “Round Midnight” features a fine vocal by José James whose timbre is somewhere between a bassoon and an oboe, and he sings breathy, passionate and blue. Eric gets off some amazingly literate solos here.

“Evidence,” at 9 minutes is the longest cut and Mr. Reed really gets on his Monkismus, quirky and eccentric at the start and outstandingly virtuosic at the end. In between he amuses himself with “watch yourself” quotes from Bizet’s “Habanera.” Impressive how he draws Cole’s clickety-snare tensions into the piano and resolves them.

Eric Reed’s own composition “Monk Beurre Rouge” is irreverently blue and pop-ish, quoting Rogers and Hammerstein. This number features the album’s best Bass solo. Reed also wrote the title track that ends the album solo piano with a slow blues utterance that waxes faux romantic before closing gorgeously in spooky mode.

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