Barely in his thirties, jazz pianist Eric Lewis has already covered a vast expanse of musical ground. He took top prize at the 1999 Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition, worked with Wynton Marlsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and toured as a featured artist with the likes of Cassandra Wilson, Elvin Jones, and Roy Hargrove.Hopscotch
presents Lewis in a piano trio setting with newcomer bassist Paul Beaudry and veteran drummer Ralph Penland, playing a program of tunes originally videotaped as a special for BET Jazz. Fortress Records has chosen to release this music as a dual CD and DVD package, with the DVD containing an unedited version of the television special, "Eric Lewis Live from the Club at Blue Palm," as well as interviews with the musicians and a short discussion of Eric's music by Wynton Marsalis.
The adulation heaped upon Lewis by his musical peers does not come lightly. The last third of the CD is a set of five solo piano tracks, and listening to his brief but astoundingly dense solo piano exploration of "Cherokee" reveals a player not only at home with jazz piano, but also equally versed and proficient in the arena of contemporary classical piano improvisation.
Lewis transitions out of "Cherokee" into another solo piano piece, the bluesy, gospel-charged "The Church Picnic," and the contrast between the soulful "Picnic" and the frenetic "Cherokee" is enough to make a casual listener ask, is that really the same pianist?
Despite his enormous musical skills Lewis does not dominate his group, and the trio works together as a cohesive unit, whether they are engaged in the contemporary feel of the title track, "Hopscotch" or in an angular, funky groove like "Monk." The trio also purposefully keeps its numbers short; only one of the eight trio numbers is longer than four minutes. This allows the trio to play a maximum number of tunes within the hour-long confines of the television special, but Lewis and his trio still have plenty to say even in this relatively short time span.
Both the performance and the production on this combo CD/DVD package is first rate, and buyers should enjoy the bonus of being able to watch Lewis as he plays. The only thing that I found missing in this package was a booklet of liner notes, which might have been omitted due to the nature of the packaging. Still, this is a minor quibble about a first-rate performance by one of the great piano geniuses of our time.