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Mike Reed: Flesh & Bone

Troy Collins By

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Years in the making, Flesh & Bone was inspired by a racist incident Chicago-based drummer Mike Reed experienced in 2009. While on a European tour, Reed and his band, People, Places & Things, were caught in a neo-Nazi rally in the Czech Republic. Reed's ensemble—half black, half white—had been deliberately deceived into boarding a train bound for the small town of Prerov, where an anti-Gypsy protest was in the process of erupting into a full-blown skinhead riot. Fortunately, for Reed and company, local police hid them and provided safe passage to Krakow, Poland—the quartet's original destination.

Considering the dire circumstances surrounding the album's creation, it is surprising how dynamically balanced the record sounds; if ever an experience could provoke a justifiably angry response, surely this would be it. But other than a few dramatically compelling readings of poetry by Marvin Tate, there is little instrumental fury to be heard. Ultimately, the date benefits from Reed's sober reexamination of events, yielding a swinging session that encapsulates his gifts as a composer, improviser, and bandleader.

Reed conceived of this project with an expanded lineup; cornetist Ben LaMar Gay and bass clarinetist Jason Stein join the dual horn frontline of alto saxophonist Greg Ward and tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman, with bassist Jason Roebke working alongside the leader in the rhythm section. The sextet alternates between driving swing and serene balladry—a cohesive juxtaposition of bracing post-bop and beatific lyricism. Despite the project's harrowing subject matter, the ensemble retains its harmonic transparency and rhythmic agility. Even at their most unfettered, Stein's vocalized musings and Gay's expressionistic variations complement Ward and Haldeman's breathy interplay with melodic clarity, while Roebke's stalwart phrasing and Reed's protean kit work stay in-the-pocket.

The session alternates between tough and tender: the punchy swing of "Voyagers" and the dazzling riffing of "My Imaginary Friend" sit alongside the bluesy swagger of "Conversation Music" and the funky "A Separatist Party," while the lyrical ballad "I Want To Be Small" and the dreamy hocketing of "Watching The Boats" provide understated contrast to the thorny "Call of Tomorrow." Meticulously arranged, Flesh & Bone is a well-crafted, but deliberately ambiguous work. Stemming from an event that is unfortunately more topical than ever, but without an obvious agenda, this is one of the most fully-realized efforts in Reed's burgeoning discography.

Track Listing: Voyagers; First Reading: SF Sky; Conversation Music; A Separatist Party; The Magic Drum; My Imaginary Friend; I Want to be Small: for Archibald Motley; Second Reading: Me Day; Watching the Boats; Call of Tomorrow (My Life Up Until The Present); Scenes From The Next Life.

Personnel: Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Tim Haldeman: tenor saxophone; Ben Lamar Gay: cornet; Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Jason Roebke: bass; Mike Reed: drums; Marvin Tate: words.

Title: Flesh & Bone | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: 482 Music


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