The oddly defensive motto on Eric Reed's Web site--"It's all right to swing"--may become increasingly cryptic as his career develops. In fact, given that the 35-year-old pianist has already started to think outside the neoclassical box, it may be cryptic already. Reed got his first big boost in the mid-90s as a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis, in whose bands any failure to swing--and swing hard--was the cardinal sin. Yet Reed's own sensibilities have set him on a different path from Marsalis's buttoned-down precision. He's told me he wants to loosen up his trio arrangements; he's started filling sets with his own compositions, even when working with unfamiliar sidemen; and he's begun to investigate the music of the innovative Eric Dolphy. In other words, he's left the Marsalis orbit to concentrate on less formal, more nervy music. Of course we're not talking free jazz here: Reed's love for (and expertise in playing) gospel, hard bop, and standards ensures he's firmly in the mainstream. And that idiom will likely remain the best framework for his lush, ringing chords, insinuating rhythms, and often flashy but full-fledged technique. But Reed's recent work suggests a new story line that I find intriguing: that of a nicely established artist willing to try something other than what's worked for him before. He's joined by bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer George Fludas, one of the city's strongest rhythm sections. See also Wednesday and Thursday; the trio's stand runs through Sunday, July 17. Tue 7/12, 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.