Eric Lewis: Hopscotch [CD and DVD]

Robert R. Calder

A non-anonymous set by a pianist the expert employment agency of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra booked, trio then suddenly unaccompanied swinging in a two-handed style with Jaki Byard for precedent. You get to see him play all but one track on an accompanying DVD.

Eric Lewis

Hopscotch [CD and DVD]

Label: Fortress
US Release Date: 2005-08-02
UK Release Date: 2005-08-01

Eric Lewis is another of those not so many nice pianists with a sound really of his own, clean-edged and individual in trio. He sounds slightly less distinctive when racing ahead unaccompanied, but presumably there are even fewer people with whom he could be confused for solo pace and swing.

It seems more important in this review to deal with the music, rather than with the DVD of the television show which comes with the CD and lets you see Lewis and trio performing all but one of the tracks on the audio disc.

The packaging tells us that there is an interview with "jazz authority, Pulitzer Prize, multi Grammy award winning , Artistic Director of Jazz @ Lincoln Center, Mr. Wynton Marsalis." This mouthful tells us that American music marketing still can balloon twaddle of an old sort. Wynton Marsalis knows a lot, but he is not exactly an authority on jazz, as some people have been clear Ken Burns ought to have known.

The interview "with the artist, Eric Lewis" (No Mr.?) is called "informative". The interviews with the bassist and the drummer are referred to in similar blimpish language.

The CD contains all the same musical notes, and what is more (hark at the further cliché) what's called a "bonus" track. A bonus for listening to the music rather than watching the TV show?

This is called "an unprecedented performance like no other", which presumably implies being unprecedented in an unprecedented way. Beside that nonsense there are all the standard credits on a movie DVD, Leslie Allen is presumably "director of post production and visual effects". Composer credits there ain't.

The booming left hand figure on the atmospheric opener "Alasum" to the spinet sound achieved in "Calamari" there's a depth of colour in Lewis's playing. "Puerto Rico" is quiet, with the same purposeful tinniness and a sustained tension during which a grand, swelling left hand passage performs an amazing excursion. Later the pinched sound Lewis achieves in the right hand piano part makes common cause with the rhythm section to create a percussion cum string band style of conclusion. In a nice piece of programming, "Pinocchio" then opens up the ensemble sound, the bass full and the fleet right hand benefitting, to produce a querulous sort of virtuoso performance.

The title track suggests Jaki Byard a little, constructed on a build-up of quirky phrases, and flowing passages with an ethereal sound, into orchestral piano, with more percussive flourishes at the top end of the piano and a lot of swell in the left hand and the bass resonance full and deep. Almost a piano duet sound,

"Monk" (why that name?) isn't Monkish, and also misses the ripping drum-rolls Art Blakey provided Monk with, amazing turns, direction changes and transformations. Ralph Penland might have been given a little more to do on what sounds like a transcription for piano trio of a Jazz Messengers arrangement of the theme generally known as "Milestones".

This is, like most of the tracks, relatively short, and the round-up of what Lewis can do pretty well finishes with his fast-paced unaccompanied solo "Cherokee". That's rather a wake-up call, because as in other sets of manly originals the entry of somebody else's melodic inspiration refreshes as against a tendency to go round in circles once the performer's compositional ideas have pretty well been exhausted and he's starting fundamentally to repeat himself. The solo again follows Byard, judging simply from a hearing of the music. Two racing hands generate cross-rhythms with approximations through one passage to stride. The straightforward approach pays in confrontation with the challenging set of chords this old standard has always been.

"Thanksgiving" is another high-powered and exciting unaccompanied performance manifesting again Lewis's distinctive tonality -- something like a piano with tin tacks in the hammers. -- a display of energy and stamina but not necessarily improvising invention. For a long time, bop pianists never worked out how to maintain without help of bass and drums the creative right hand work which developed relying on the other two rhythm men to replace the left hand of earlier jazz piano styles. The new sort of right hand work just asked too much of the five left fingers.

The ability to maintain impetus and swing unaccompanied could be demonstrated by an occasional solo number on a set, with the unusually consequent want of development not being remarked on, since the other impressive features of the solo interlude added variety to the overall succession of performances. This is what there is here, and since the track following is solo piano on the same lines there's a slight feeling of listening to musical blarney. It's something of a tour de force, playing through the successions of harmonies and rhythms which are the matrix from which a jazz solo performance could be selected.

"Blessed Assurance" is in sumptuous ballad vein, emphasising Lewis's value as an accompanist. It's short and largely decorative. Very lucky the band which can call on Eric Lewis's extensive resources, less lucky the listener experiencing the law of diminishing returns which has begun to apply on this set -- if it's taken demandingly seriously.

The bassist is back for "Ruth in Blue", where the very full piano sound with metallic top seems overripe. Though it's hardly possible not to be impressed by the pianist's palette and capacity to perform on the grand scale, somewhere or other the realisation comes in that in the course of this set "Live from the Club at Blue Palm" musical inspiration proper somehow flagged. The singular sonority and expression of energy proceeded unabating but with less and less fresh substance to the music. "Ruth in Blue" isn't a long track, either. The so-called bonus is the longest trio track, the pianist a bit more subdued, and the bass speaking in a solo role, Lewis supplying atmospheric accompaniment until with a shift of the balance he moves into central place in a likeable drift through. I'm being hard on this set, whose conception was itself quite hard on Lewis.

This set's good but definitely not great. Those who might have pined for trio sets by Walter Davis Jr. or Harold Mabern, say, when BlueNote was recording them in sets with two horns, might wonder whether their programming with band wasn't after all a rather better idea than over-exposure. Perhaps they needed rather more experience before their major solo achievements of later years. Lewis can do things they seem not to have tried to do, but he's not ahead of them. Byard did record a fair bit solo and in trio, and of you listened through the CD reissues you might be shocked at earlier reviewers' suggestions that that little titan somehow lacked individuality. Lewis's own best is yet to come, with or without pictures and in or out of trademarked ' "'Audio Atmosphere' visual light settings".


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.