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May 7, 1998
by Andrew Clevenger and Lissa Townsend Rodgers
  Eric Reed
"Pure Imagination" (Impulse!)

The music of the Great White Way has been mined so often by jazz musicians that albums of Broadway standards are often dismissed as throwaway projects, something an artist does to fill out a contract or to stretch for that crossover payoff. Such albums, conventional wisdom tells us, find bored musicians thumping out tired material. After all, people stopped writing good musicals 25 years ago--oh, c'mon, does anyone really want to hear jazz versions of "Miss Saigon," "Les Miz," or "Rent?"--and some argue that explorations of songs written a generation or two ago based on traditional chord changes no longer lead to interesting music. To these skeptics, I offer pianist Eric Reed's "Pure Imagination" as an ardent rebuttal.

Reed is blessed with a prodigious technique, an easy sense of swing, and the dazzling ability to express more than one musical idea at a time. His chord voicing is colorful without becoming muddy, and his smooth, melodic right-hand runs recall the work of Oscar Peterson and Red Garland. Like these predecessors, Reed thrives in a trio setting, with bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Gregory Hutchinson sparkling alongside the leader. The combo delves with relish into the fertile ground of Rodgers and Hammerstein ("Hello, Young Lovers," "You'll Never Walk Alone") and the Gershwins ("I Got Rhythm," "Nice Work if You Can Get It," and the "Porgy and Bess" showstopper "My Man's Gone Now/Gone, Gone, Gone"). The results are never boring, always enlightening, and frequently spectacular.

But Reed is not interested in simply revisiting old war-horses. Under his hands, "42nd Street" becomes an up-tempo romp, while Bernstein and Sondheim's "Maria" includes a quote from (surprise!) the theme song to "The Simpsons." I have always hated Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns"--even when Sinatra sings it--but Reed strips away the sappy melancholy to reveal the playful core of the song, sounding positively frisky at times.

"Pure Imagination" is affectionately conceived, wonderfully performed, and immaculately recorded. Producer Tommy LiPuma, whose collaborations with Diana Krall have produced similarly pleasing results, has beautifully preserved Reed's crisp, clear attack, and the balance is exquisite, with all three musicians' voices coming through distinctly throughout.--Andrew Clevenger


Eric Reed: "Pure Imagination"

Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars: "Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars"

Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars
"Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars" (HMG/Hightone Records)

Why have women never done rockabilly? One would think the elaborate hair, the posturing, and the penchant for pink clothing would offer them a fair shake, if not dominance. But rockabilly chicks, while often seen, are never heard.

Stepping into the gap is Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars. Lenz is a rodeo queen's redheaded daughter who favors country n’ western crinolines and dice earrings and sports a perpetual Elvis lip curl. This girl is not kidding; Lenz wrote every one of the songs (‘cept the two covers) all by her lonesome, and she’s got a solid ear for an old-style hook. The Jaguars are a classic lead guitar, standup bass, and drums combo (Kim plays rhythm guitar) and every guy wears a pompadour that wouldn’t survive most highway underpasses.

The album cracks open with "Saturday Jump," a rewrite of "Rock Around the Clock" with a Duane Eddy guitar solo and Lenz whooping "I'm gonna rock n' roll 'til I rip my dress!" Indeed, all the tunes are about men and drinking and going out dancing. The lady has the hiccup-and-growl delivery down, and is unafraid to either go down n’ dirty gutbucket (in "Dang, That’s Good Stuff") or Swiss-Miss sweet (in the Pasty Cline-esque "Thinkin’ About You"). Her interplay with lead guitarist Mike Lester is particularly good, his mean twang responds to her singing like another voice.

The strict outlines of the rockabilly genre can lead to sameness, and while there is a bit of that here, Lenz manages to shake things up somewhat. "The Swing" is a bluesy slow drag, while "Havin' a Ball" employs a Latin-tinted shuffle in the classic tradition of listing all the dances you and your baby can do: waltz, slide, stroll, cha-cha, jitterbug, bunny hop, rhumba, samba--these people are so old-school they don't even do the twist or the mashed potato. The live-in-studio recording also keeps the sound fresh; you decide what holds your attention without following some producer's pre-designated path, and you’re free to find something new with each listen. Is there anything on this album that couldn’t have been done in 1959? No. So what? Shut up, start dancing, and pass that bottle over here.--Lissa Townsend Rodgers

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