Chicago-based drummer Mike Reed's debut of his People, Places & Things Ensemble, Proliferation (482 Music, 2008), was dedicated to the under-recognized people, places, and things from late 1950s Chicago that he found inspiring. About Us continues this concept, eschewing the previous session's focus on under-sung cover tunes in favor of original compositions written by Reed and his band mates, with one tune apiece contributed by three of Chicago's most influential artists.
The line-up once again features the effusive front-line of saxophonists Greg Ward (alto) and Tim Haldeman (tenor), supported by Jason Roebke's pliant bass excursions and the leader's dexterous trap set work. The quartet is joined at points by tenor saxophonist David Boykin, trombonist Jeb Bishop, and guitarist Jeff Parker, who each sit in on their respective tunes.
Bustling with staccato riffs, serpentine themes, and bracing tempos, the majority of the album revels in revisionist swing, updating classic be-bop and hard bop traditions with angular intervals, modern harmonies, and collective arrangements. Ward and Haldeman uncoil fervent interlocking cadences that careen astride Roebke and Reed's quicksilver tempos, pushing at the boundaries of convention without disavowing lessons learned from their forbearers.
Though crackling ride rhythms and tortuous volleys of notes dominate, there are brief periods of respite. "The Next Time You Are Near" is a beautifully understated balladstriking in its melodic maturity. The spectral pointillism of "First Reading: Paul's Letter To the Ephesians" is equally evocative, an introspective tone poem that unveils harmonious fragments through an aleatoric haze.
The session blossoms on the guest tracks. The gruff, swaggering blues of Boykin's "Big and Fine" slowly expands into thorny territory, climaxing with all three saxophones intertwined in a spellbinding vortex of kaleidoscopic sound. Bishop's rousing "Big Stubby" employs a similar strategy, culminating in a contrapuntal horn chorale, plying spirited variations on the main theme sans rhythm section accompaniment. The relaxed pace of Parker's "Days Fly By (with Ruby)" ends the session with melodious elegance.
The second installment of a projected three part trilogy, About Us showcases some of Chicago's brightest new stars advancing the art form without ignoring the innovations of the past.
Personnel: Mike Reed: drums, melodica (8); Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Tim Haldeman: tenor saxophone; Jason Roebke: bass; David Boykin: tenor saxophone (4); Jeb Bishop: trombone (6); Jeff Parker: guitar (10).