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IN PERFORMANCE

The exuberant spirit of pianist Eric Reed

Howard Reich

10:23 AM CDT, April 5, 2013

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In the world of jazz, there aren't many things you can count on, but one of them is that Eric Reed will swing. Hard.

He reaffirmed that tenet from his first robustly stated notes Thursday night at the Jazz Showcase, the pianist digging deeply into the keys in music of Thelonious Monk and rarely letting go. Though he played the occasional ballad during his opening set, mostly he pushed rhythms aggressively, cast his music on a large scale and offered buoyant, muscular accounts of jazz classics. He has to be the most un-neurotic jazz pianist to place his hands on a keyboard.

When Reed plays, in other words, there's no hint of self-doubt or hesitation. On the contrary, he seems intent on packing as much tonal weight and dramatic purpose into every phrase as possible.

So when he opened his set with Monk's "Bolivar Blues," Reed was referencing three hallmarks of his art: propulsive swing, a deep-blues sensibility and an unmistakable affinity for music of Monk. Rarely do pianists make opening statements as declamatory as this. Considering the fullness of Reed's sound and the adroitness of his trio, with bassist Mike Gurrola and drummer Wesley Anderson, one wondered how Reed possibly could build from here.

Cleverly, he didn't try to. Instead, he offered a brisk, melodically elegant treatment of Benny Golson's "Stablemates" and followed with a harmonically complex, texturally lush reading of the venerable "Star Eyes." In the latter, Reed's speedy right-hand lines proved that it's possible to attain a warm, rounded sound even at peak velocity. And when drummer Anderson played a vigorous extended solo, Reed made matters still more interesting by running the main theme through a variety of keys in quick succession.

Recognizing that he was playing the Showcase, a temple of bebop, Reed followed with a fast, brawny version of Charlie Parker's "Moose the Mooche."

All of which made at least one listener yearn for a bit of relief, a relaxation of all that sound and fury. Reed provided it in a lovely, lyrical transformation of Dave Brubeck's signature "In Your Own Sweet Way." Or at least Reed kept matters understated for a while. It wasn't long, though, before he was turning up the intensity.

Music of Monk has become a real area of expertise for Reed, who has proved it on recordings such as "The Dancing Monk" and "The Baddest Monk." He emphasized the point in Monk's "Reflections," Reed's version streaked with blues phrasing and stark dissonances, barreling left-hand octaves and lusty right-hand chordal tremolos. Through it all, there was no missing the quirky rhythms and astringent harmonies that are central to Monk's musical language.

Later in the set, Reed played an extended opening solo in Monk's "Pannonica," transforming the theme from the outset, and a poetic, ethereal version of the composer's "'Round Midnight."

A few more such introspective moments would be welcome, but, overall, it's hard to argue with music as hard-charging and life-affirming as this.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

Eric Reed Trio

When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday

Where: Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.

Admission: $20-$30; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com