Something Else! sneak peek: Eric Reed, “Gallop’s Gallop” from The Adventurous Monk (2014)

Eric Reed, who rose to fame in the early 1990s with Wynton Marsalis, has discovered a well spring of inspiration in the music of Thelonious Monk, as “Gallop’s Gallop” heralds his third tribute album to the offbeat jazz genius. Reed’s willingness to hear the music, without simply mimicking Monk the man, has consistently imbued these extended meditations on Monk with a lasting intrigue.

That separation isn’t an easy undertaking, as Monk’s persona at the piano is inextricably linked with his compositions — to the point where they have gathered a sort of grail-like allure. Many is the pianist, alas, who crashes on Thelonious Monk’s rocky shoals, producing a gimmick-driven carbon copy but nothing of lasting substance. Reed, however, has more consistently succeeded across a series that already includes both Dancing Monk and Baddest Monk by delving into the essence of his songs rather than the syncopated tics that defined Monk’s playing legend.

It sounds so simple, of course. But Reed employs an approach that is by far the rarity. “Gallop’s Gallop,” which arrives as the lead track on Reed’s forthcoming project The Adventurous Monk having emerged from a sideman date with Gigi Gryce from Monk back in 1955, is all the better for it. Reed’s version unfolds like a reanimation, rather than a second-hand echo — an expansion on a central idea rather than an old saw.

Working, at first, well behind an active group that includes saxist Seamus Blake, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, Reed allows the magisterial depth of Monk’s piece to take centerstage. When he finally moves to the fore, working over a swinging rhythmic tandem, Reed brings as much of himself to the solo as he does Monk — recalling but never reciting. Once again, that bodes well for The Adventurous Monk, due March 25, 2014 via Savant Records.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.