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Mike Reed: The Speed of Change & Proliferation

Troy Collins By

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Chicago-based composer, bandleader and percussionist Mike Reed is one of the Windy City's most active young musicians and well-connected music presenters. In addition to leading his own ensembles and working with various collectives, Reed is founder of the Emerging Improvisers Organization, director of the Pitchfork Music Festival and a co-curator of the Chicago Jazz Festival.

Released simultaneously, The Speed of Change and Proliferation showcase two very different aspects of his oeuvre. The former is the follow-up to Last Year's Ghost (482 Music, 2007), the first recording of his quintet, Loose Assembly—a unique ensemble that combines the austere atmospherics of chamber music and aleatoric free jazz with the brisk momentum of driving post bop. Proliferation is the debut of his newest band, People, Places & Things, a stripped-down improvisational quartet dedicated to re-investigating late 1950s Chicago swing.

Mike Reed's Loose Assembly
The Speed of Change
482 Music

Reconvening for their sophomore effort, The Speed of Change features Reed joined by alto saxophonist Greg Ward, cellist Tomeka Reid, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and bassist Josh Abrams—four of Chicago's most impressive young musicians. Adasiewicz's shimmering vibes and Reid's sonorous cello lend an effervescent aura to the session's stately air, while Ward alternates pugnacious intervals with keening lyricism. Flutist Nicole Mitchell makes a guest appearance on the somber miniature "Picking up Greta" and sings dreamy vocalese on an ebullient cover of Max Roach's classic, "Garvey's Ghost."

Abrams' sinewy, rooted bass and the leader's carefree, yet nuanced polyrhythms provide an elastic undercurrent that veers from painterly rubato accents to intricate time signatures. An exceptional percussionist, Reed provides unwavering forward momentum even while engaged in pithy call-and-response with soloists.

The group's previous album offered a variety of stylistic inroads; this session continues along the same diverse path, but with a slightly more cohesive sound. Placid and ethereal, the title track and "Soul Stirrer" unfold at a languid pace—melancholy dirges awash with insectoid textures. The cinematic ambience of "X" spotlights Ward and Adasiewicz in an intimate duet that recalls vibraphonist Gunter Hampel and multi-reedist Marion Brown's sublime duo session, Reeds 'n Vibes (Improvising Artists, 1978).

In addition to the inspired Roach cover, the quintet delivers a stunning version of Ethiopian vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke's "Tezetaye Antchi Lidj," with each tune inspiring the quintet to loftier heights of expression. The lilting post bop of "Exit Strategy" and the turbulent collective study "Ground Swell" generate smoldering heat, with Ward's barbed alto solo on the later excursion surpassing even Oliver Lake in pungency.

A compelling album filled with myriad moods, The Speed of Change is a welcome reminder of the rich variety a capable composer can draw from an unorthodox instrumental line-up.

Mike Reed's People, Places & Things
482 Music

Mike Reed's People, Places & Things differs from Loose Assembly in both instrumentation and intent. Where Loose Assembly embraces a wide spectrum of musical traditions—from classic jazz to global influences—People, Places & Things looks inward, focusing on a specific period of regional history, specifically Chicago's post-war years. Reed's quartet explores a plethora of classic and obscure late 1950s hard-bop tunes written by fellow Chicagoans such as Wilbur Campbell, John Jenkins, John Neely, Sun Ra, and Wilbur Ware, among others. Reed also contributes three originals ("People," "Places" and "Things") that fit seamlessly into the program.

Joined by stalwart bassist Jason Roebke and the expressive pair of Tim Haldeman (tenor saxophone) and Greg Ward (alto saxophone), Reed avoids tired nostalgia by recasting these durable chestnuts with a rough-hewn edginess that is unsentimental, yet reverent. Placing a modernistic spin on a set of tunes that simultaneously looks ahead while evincing their innovative spirit, the quartet avoids routine conventions (head-solo-head formats, predictable solo orders) in favor of interweaving counterpoint, controlled collective improvisation and subtle rhythmic deconstruction.

From the first note, "Is-It," "Wilbur's Tune" and "Status Quo" demonstrate the quartet's vigorous approach. Supported by a pliant rhythm section, Haldeman and Ward cite the tightly wound hard bop riffs of these classic tunes before uncoiling the timeless themes into ribbons of jagged notes, while Roebke and Reed careen with wild abandon. Sun Ra's "Planet Earth" and "Saturn" showcase the quartet in a more expansive vein, progressively amplifying the spacey textures of Ra's modal grooves on the former, carousing with unfettered polyrhythmic elation on the latter.

Reconciling their kinetic energy with dynamic restraint, the quartet reveals their tender side on a smattering of blues and ballads. "Sleepy" unfolds with languorous soulfulness while the bittersweet "Fa" conjures the regal spirituality of early John Coltrane, as Haldeman and Ward ply patient, breathy cadences that ache with plangent lyricism.

With each tune dedicated to the people, places and things that have inspired him, Proliferation is Reed's love letter to his home town—a rich and invigorating ode to the grand tradition of post-war Chicago jazz.

The Speed of Change and Proliferation offer two very different facets of Mike Reed's diverse musical persona. These albums signify that Reed, a ubiquitous presence on the Chicago jazz scene, is destined for greater acclaim.

Tracks and Personnel

The Speed of Change

Tracks: The Speed of Change; Garvey's Ghost; Ground Swell; Tezetaye Antchi Lidj; "X"; Soul Stirrer; Exit Strategy; Picking up Greta.

Personnel: Mike Reed: drums, percussion; Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Tomeka Reid: cello; Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone; Josh Abrams: bass; Nicole Mitchell: voice (2), flute (8).


Tracks: Is-It; Wilbur's Tune; Be-Ware; People; Status Quo; Planet Earth; Sleepy; Places; FA; Pondering; Saturn; Things.

Personnel: Mike Reed: drums, piano; Greg Ward: alto saxophone, clarinet, percussion, piano; Tim Haldeman: tenor saxophone, percussion, piano; Jason Roebke: bass, percussion, piano.

Visit Mike Reed on the web.
Mike Reed at All About Jazz.


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