Drummer Mike Reed's previous album, In the Context Of (482 Music, 2006), showcased his gifts as an improviser in a series of spontaneous duets with his fellow Chicagoans. Last Year's Ghost provides more evidence of his talents, demonstrating his arranging and composing skills as well as his continuing development as a brilliant percussionist on the rise.
The debut recording of Loose Assembly, his three-year-old quintet, incorporates free-wheeling sonic explorations with nuanced harmonic structures. By reconfiguring group improvisations developed during practice sessions into traditional frameworks, Reed arrives at a perfect balance between unfettered creativity and formal aesthetics.
Colored by Jason Adasiewicz's shimmering vibes and Tomeka Reid's sinuous cello, the session exudes a dulcet, evocative mood that occasionally drifts into darker, introspective territory. Newcomer, alto saxophonist Greg Ward brings both poignant restraint and agitated exuberance to the front line, weaving abstruse lines around Reid's resonant tones and Adasiewicz's cinematic flourishes.
Supported by the leader's tasteful rhythms and Josh Abrams full-bodied bass, the quintet navigates the malleable compositions with verve and grace. Reed, perfectly attuned to the moment, veers from buoyant, swinging ride rhythms and intricate polyrhythms to pulsating backbeats or scintillating, atmospheric accents, as the mood dictates.
Knitting together diverse approaches, the quintet extrapolates a lilting melody into a roiling tempest on the unfolding drama of "Day of the Dead" while soaring with carefree jubilance on the swinging "The Entire State of Florida." From the tender, bluesy mid-tempo sway of "Afterthoughts" and the chaotic, kaleidoscopic blast of "1974" to the somber tone poem "Simone's Crumbs," Loose Assembly draws from a broad range of styles and influences.
A brilliant debut, Last Year's Ghost merges the austere reverence of chamber music with the scalding intensity of Chicago's historically ebullient free jazz, making a case for the re-evaluation of commonly held geographic prejudices. Although conventional wisdom dictates New York as the center of the jazz world, documents like this beg to differ.
Personnel: Mike Reed: drums; Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Jason Adasiewicz: vibes; Tomeka Reid: cello; Josh Abrams: bass.