Pianist Eric Reed, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton share a single approach to music: Make it swing and swing hard. The three musicians played to that credo Thursday during the first set of a three-day run at Catalina Bar & Grill.
The engagement reunites the pianist with Clayton, in whose bands he played some 10 years ago in Los Angeles. All three men now lead their own groups and record under their own names. Bringing them together for this engagement proved to be a master stroke.
Billed as the Eric Reed Trio and playing a number of tunes from the pianist's recently released recording, the three players took delight in their common rhythmic cause, driving through up-tempo numbers with unbridled enthusiasm, swinging sensually on ballads or finding a firm, middle ground in moderate tempos that they delivered with weight and substance.
Despite a host of serious moments, the overall feel was one of playful determination as the men pushed one another to emotional and technical extremes. The pianist's titles, including "Frog's Legs" and "Longhair's Rumba ," carried their own sense of whimsy, and the standard "I Should Care" was played at a carefree tempo that brought it a touch of irony. Reed's reading of "Pure Imagination" from the movie "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" was decidedly in character.
The pianist moved between the funky sophistication of Ramsey Lewis and the dynamic drama of Erroll Garner, interwoven with his own lengthy phrases and carrying an irresistible inertia. Clayton's expansive accompaniment, layered with accents that echoed the piano, supported Reed wherever he went.
Hamilton's to-the-beat style on "Longhair's Rumba" was perfectly flexible as Reed modulated through a number of Latin rhythms during his improvisation. The drummer showed a flair for shading and color on Reed's somewhat moody piece "Scandal II."
The trio referenced Gil Evans' work on George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" a number of times, playing "Summertime" in the style of Evans' arrangement, opening "The Nearness of You" with lines from "My Man's Gone Now" and finishing the set with a spirited version of "Gone, Gone, Gone."
* The Eric Reed Trio appears at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; tonight at 8:30 and 10:30. $15. (213) 466-2210.