Eric Reed, Black, Brown, and Blue Review
Black, Brown, and Blue: A Profound Message but a Musical Missed Opportunity
By Sylvannia Garutch
Eric Reed is back with Black, Brown, and Blue, the pianist and composer who encapsulates his evolution while bravely renegotiating the jazz canon. Reed, who began his career amidst the stylistic restrictions of the “Young Lions” generation, has since matured into an artist dedicated to personal authenticity and broad musical exploration; The Jazz Word reviewed his album For Such a Time as This. His journey includes the significant step of publicly acknowledging his bisexuality, rendering Black, Brown, and Blue a milestone in his career and a profoundly autobiographical testament to personal freedom.
Black, Brown, and Blue, released via Smoke Sessions Records, is an eclectic blend of compositions by revered jazz masters like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Wayne Shorter, alongside pop/R&B luminaries like Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers. Reed, alongside bassist Luca Alemanno and drummer Reggie Quinerly, also contributes original pieces. The album is a tribute to these jazz legends while showcasing Reed’s unique voice in reshaping jazz standards as an authentic expression of his evolving journey. Reed’s homage to Art Blakey, Betty Carter, and Elvin Jones, through his mentorship of Alemanno and Quinerly, reveals his commitment to the continuous evolution of jazz. In addition, the solo improvisation title track, “Black, Brown, and Blue,” echoes Reed’s deep gospel roots and respect for the jazz tradition while presenting his unique voice.
“Pastime Paradise” stands out for its blend of genres, collective energy, and Reed’s selfless leadership. Emphasizing musical unity, Reed’s decision to forgo a solo and instead amplify David Daughtry’s gospel-infused vocals illustrates his musical maturity and generosity. Reed’s strong accompaniment, including rhythmic and chordal structures, provides a robust foundation for Daughtry’s expressive singing. The duet does a fine job of melding jazz with gospel and pop/R&B, and together they introduce a new dimension to the song, potentially enriching its original social message and broadening its appeal.
“Ugly Beauty,” the only waltz Thelonious Monk ever wrote, and the title itself captures the concept of embracing dichotomies with its blend of melancholy and joy, is a particularly notable track on the album. This piece sees Reed’s signature technical ability at the forefront, his fingers deftly maneuvering over the keys. However, some might find his solos to be overly technical, focusing more on showcasing his intricate skills rather than cultivating melodious motifs. While Reed’s dexterity is undoubtedly commendable, the potential for his solos to evolve into a more melodic, thematic exploration could enrich the listening experience and add another layer of emotional depth to the composition. Yet, this piece remains a fitting testament to Reed’s considerable ability to innovate within the constraints of the genre, even as it prompts a desire for a greater balance between technical proficiency and melodic development.
Reed’s album Black, Brown, and Blue is commendable for its ambition, but it ultimately falls short of expectations. Reed’s technical skills, which are on full display, are without question, but they overshadow the importance of melodic creativity. His frequent overplaying, particularly during his solos, leaves a void of thematic development, often making the album feel monotonous and lacking in emotional depth. Even with the depth of the subject matter explored and the allusions to major themes of Black history and culture, the album could have benefited from a more balanced approach to space and melody, delivering a more compelling musical narrative.