Eric Lilley, Three Review
Tribute and Transformation: A Review of Eric Lilley’s Three
by Ferell Aubre
Eric Lilley, a respected composer and pianist whose influences and musical journey span decades, has released his third trio album aptly titled Three. Born in Corona, California, Lilley’s deep-rooted affinity for the piano began with his mother, Donna, a piano teacher herself, and matured through an illustrious career that took him from Denver to Boston and onto stages alongside musical greats from Chuck Berry to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
Having founded the jazz group, You Guys and later establishing his own record label, Twin Goat Records, Lilley continues to prove himself a maestro of innovation and heartfelt performance. Three unveils nine new original compositions and has Lilley being joined by bassist Mark Diamond and drummer Tony Black, with percussionist Jose Espino featuring on two tracks. Read our review of Lilley’s last album, Follow Up.
The theme for the album was initially intended as a tribute to Bill Evans but grew to encompass a broader stylistic range following the passing of Chick Corea in 2021. The result is an album that pays homage and is representative of Lilley’s transformation of his influences and personal experiences into unique musical expressions.
“Jereices’ Step” is a powerful homage to bassist Scott LaFaro’s “Gloria’s Step,” a song famously associated with Bill Evans. This composition nods towards Evans’ characteristic style through its stated melody, repeated twice before the trio transitions into sections of half-time and a tempo. The track swings with intensity and grace reminiscent of Evans’ work, with Lilley’s voicings and melodic lines capturing the profound influence of the legendary pianist.
In “Kendras’ Waltz,” Lilley channels the unmistakable vivacity and energy of Chick Corea’s trio, showcasing his own adaptability and technical skills. Here, the pentatonic scales, voicings in fourths, and rhythmic motifs dynamically build throughout Lilley’s solo, all attributing to Corea’s unique style. The result is a track that respects the late jazz icon while demonstrating Lilley’s profound ability to synthesize his influences into a distinct musical expression. In these two tracks, Lilley successfully bridges past and present, honoring his predecessors and creating something uniquely his own.
The theme of transformation is splendidly embodied in Lilley’s compositions “Goats” and “Visiting Hours” on the album. “Goats,” an upbeat piece infused with a dynamic fusion of swing and Latin styles, is a musical testament to Lilley’s playful inventiveness and personal connections. Named after his Capricorn twins, the track exudes a spirit of fun and familial bond. Lilley’s solo in this composition is a deft display of his skills and agility, playfully transitioning between swing and Latin settings, showcasing his signature style in a lighthearted setting.
On the other end of the spectrum, “Visiting Hours” paints an image of introspection, symbolizing those profound late-night moments of creativity and inspiration. The track initiates with an atmospheric opening featuring Diamond’s bowing on the bass, setting a stage that intertwines classical impressionistic tones with avant-garde hues. As the melody takes shape, a repeated rhythmic figure grounds the composition, allowing the trio’s interaction to shine through, further exemplifying the transformative focus that is reminiscent of the musical interactions of Bill Evans and Chick Corea.
Both tracks eloquently convey Lilley’s unique ability to take his personal experiences and influences, transforming them into intriguing musical narratives that offer listeners a journey through his life and inspirations. Three is a profoundly personal and thoughtfully created collection of compositions, threading a tapestry of homage and transformation that beautifully encapsulates Lilley’s musical journey.
From the rhythmic fusion and melodic/harmonic touch of both Evans and Corea to the introspective creativity in Lilley’s family inspiration, he weaves a story of his influences, experiences, and intimate connections. With Three, Lilley not only honors his predecessors but also marks a distinct musical project that is engaging and an emotionally resonant experience that will inspire and delight.