AVAILABLE THIS FRIDAY: Eric Reed | “For Such A Time As This” | Smoke Sessions Records
AVAILABLE THIS FRIDAY on Smoke Sessions Records:
Pianist Eric Reed Delivers Deeply Personal Album, For Such a Time as This
Written and Recorded in L.A. During the Summer of 2020,
Reed Delivers a Powerful and Uplifting Program Against the Backdrop of a Global Pandemic, Racial Injustice, and an Anxious Election Year
For more than three decades as one of the most influential and beloved jazz musicians, Eric Reed has recorded close to 30 accomplished leader albums showcasing his virtuosic chops, intellectual clarity, unwavering will to swing, and ability to refract and coalesce a wide range of musical, spiritual, and personal influences into a single stream of consciousness. Perhaps the most personal of them all is For Such A Time As This (available November 27 via Smoke Sessions Records), the remarkable November release on which the veteran pianist transcends the high bar he’s established for himself.
An important part of this story dates to 2008, when, after two decades in the jazz epicenter of New York City, Reed relocated to Los Angeles, his home as an adolescent and teenager, where he reintegrated into the local scene. It was there in mid-March, when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a city-wide shutdown, that Reed began to conceive For Such A Time As This to be recorded in L.A. with local musicians. At the end of June, he was ready and assembled a gifted, young quartet in the studio, adhering to full physical distancing and masking protocols, with remote production by Paul Stache. The end result is Reed’s cogent, impassioned response to the dystopic “new normal” of recording during COVID.
“These are great musicians, each with some quality that I wanted to utilize,” Reed says of the personnel. “My generation came up under mentorship and apprenticeship – from Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Clark Terry, who all believed in hiring young people. That’s where I come from, I’ve come by it honestly, and it’s something that I believe in doing.”
He met drum virtuoso Kevin Kanner several years ago though pianist Gerald Clayton, and Australia-born bassist Alex Boneham at a jam session Kanner runs at an L.A. Tenor and soprano saxophonist Chris Lewis – “a laid-back, quiet dude who turns into a killer when he puts that horn in his mouth” – initially came to Reed’s attention during a master class at Temple University, where Lewis studied with Jazz department head Terell Stafford, and woodwind masters Dick Oatts and Tim Warfield.
Assembled for the session, the band nonetheless displays the chemistry of a unit of long standing throughout the program. “Alex and Kevin breathe together,” Reed says. “Alex has an intense bass pulse that keeps you on your toes, and gives an edge, an urgency to the pieces with some tempo.”
That stated urgency infuses the first two quartet numbers, “Western Rebellion” and “Thelonigus (For Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus),” both Reed originals. The former is an affirmative line depicting the feeling and vibration of L.A.; the title signifies on a group led during the 1970s by master pianist-composer Cedar Walton, to whom Reed paid tribute on his previous Smoke Sessions outing Everybody Gets The Blues. “Thelonigus” layers Monkishly capacious intervals with a motif reminiscent of Mingus’ “Peggy’s Blue Skylight.”
“It stems from an experience at the beginning of the pandemic, when they were telling everyone to keep six feet of distance,” Reed relates. “I was walking down the street, and a couple was walking towards me, and these folks almost jumped in the bushes to avoid being too close to me. The wide intervals symbolize people jumping away from each other, which is counter-intuitive to human behavior.”
A solemn, contemplative quality infuses “Walltz,” a tribute to the late trumpeter Wallace Roney (one of the first Jazz casualties of COVID-19), whom Reed met during his late teens and played with periodically over the years, most notably during a memorable week at Catalina Bar & Grill after his return to Los Angeles.
Reed projects a similarly reflective feel on “Paradox Peace,” the solo piano vignette that opens the recital. Reed traces its gestation to a Sunday night drive through normally teeming Los Angeles streets, now completely devoid of pedestrians and drivers. “To witness this calm and quiet was the most beautiful and scariest thing I’d ever witnessed,” he says. “It was so peaceful, but when I thought about the reason why, it made me sad — that’s the paradox.”
He also offers fresh readings of old chestnuts “Stella By Starlight,” rendered with impressionistic emotion, and “It’s You Or No One,” which receives a crisp, vertiginous trio reading (piano-bass-drums). There’s also a swinging, harmonically erudite exploration (tenor sax-piano-bass) of “Bebophobia,” an ingenious “Cherokee” contrafact with the idiomatic aura of an undiscovered original line that the iconic bebop tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards (who hired teenaged Reed for more than a few Los Angeles gigs during the 1980s) might have played during bebop’s glory days.
“I’ve played a lot of standards, and I wanted to revisit some of them,” says Reed, adding that he’d responded to the enforced downtime with a resolution “to practice all day long.” “What you do with them will make it fresh, current and contemporary. ‘It’s You Or No One’ and ‘Cherokee’ contain several key modulations; playing them through all 12 keys facilitates playing ideas over chords and chord changes.”
As has been his frequent custom during the last 15 years, Reed – whose father pastored a Baptist church in Philadelphia and Los Angeles – presents a gospel section, referencing early roots to address portentous present-day realities. In response to the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and the protesting and rioting that ensued in the face of racial injustice, Reed explains, “The messages of ‘We Shall Overcome,’ ‘Come Sunday,’ and the ebullient ‘Hymn of Faith’ go hand in hand.” His original composition “Make Me Better,” sung by the soulful Henry Jackson, “puts a fine point on everything I’m hoping and wishing for –that I will be made better by this experience, and that I will encourage other people to be better as well.”
Towards that aspiration, For Such A Time As This concludes affirmatively with a rousing blues (“The Break”), an impromptu line born out of the first session Eric played with musicians since the quarantine.
“This record is the first I’ve done framed by this kind of specific circumstance,” Reed concludes. “But even though we had to do it with these pandemic restrictions, it seemed normal because we were in the recording studio, where there’s no audience anyway. It’s the circumstances surrounding the creativity that were so different. All of that had an impact on the music.”
‘For Such a Time as This’ was produced by Paul Stache and Damon Smith
and recorded live at Tritone Recording Studio, Glendale, California at 96KHz/24bit.
It was mixed to ½” analog tape using a Studer mastering deck
by Christopher Allen in New York City.
Available in audiophile HD format.
Eric Reed · For Such A Time As This
Smoke Sessions Records · Release Date: November 27, 2020
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