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Moers Festival Interviews: Tomeka Reid

Moers Festival Interviews: Tomeka Reid

Courtesy Geert Vandepoele


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The Moers Festival has been operating its Improviser In Residence initiative since 2008, inviting artists every year to dwell in a designated house on Klein Allee, very close to this German city's expansive Schlosspark. The 'Residence' part of the title is quite extreme, as each successive musician is given the keys for a full year's inhabitation, the aim being to infiltrate local society, performing, collaborating, workshopping and generally burrowing into the Moers scene, quite possibly inviting other players from the surrounding Cologne/Düsseldorf area, or even Berlin. While closely linked to the festival, the IIR is also funded by the Kunststiftung NRW.

In 2021, the NYC twosome of keyboardist Matt Mottel and drummer Kevin Shea were in town for the duration, so continuing an American theme, 2022's IIR is the Chicago cellist Tomeka Reid. She also spends quite a significant amount of time on the New York scene, and has toured Europe on many occasions, in multiple musical settings. Reid leads her own quartet, but is also a frequent collaborator, working towards completely free improvisation, or alternately entering the realm of composition. Of course, the ratios of these approaches can often vary, their portals bending light, an abstraction becoming a repeated form, a scored part splintering into unpredictability.

Just observing recent recorded releases we can select Reid's Artifacts album with the Chicago trio that also includes Nicole Mitchell (flute) and Mike Reed (drums). Another Chicago project was a set of duos and trios with saxophonist Dave Rempis, and arriving right at the end of 2021, a live 2017 St. Petersberg set with reedsmen Christoph Erb and Keefe Jackson. In recent years Reid has also worked with pianist Alexander Hawkins, trumpeter Dave Douglas, Anthony Braxton and The Art Ensemble Of Chicago.

Since moving to Moers, she's set on walking for around three miles each day, to discover the lay of the land, although often exceeding that distance, and finding that everything inevitably radiates from the city's circle. If needing an American grid-system, she'll have to visit Mannheim, where the streets are mathematically arranged. In fact, Reid's most recent gig in Germany was in Ludwigshafen, just across the Rhine from Mannheim, when she appeared at the Enjoy Jazz festival in November 2021. Here was another configuration, with keyboardist Craig Taborn and percussionist Ches Smith, as yet unrecorded, although a trio sporadically together since 2017.

"I feel very fortunate, coming to Europe quite a bit," says Reid. "Often I play in Italy, Switzerland, France or the Netherlands, so I know lots of musicians from all of these places." She's relying on the Moersfest folks to connect her with improvisers on the local scene, and around the North Rhine-Westphalia area, but still has a wide network of semi-nearby artists with whom she's already familiar.

A few days prior to being interviewed by your scribe, Reid's first Moers gig was cancelled, although the virus situation in Germany is now looking towards a rapidly improving scenario, and a likely return towards the lifting of restrictions in coming weeks. That gig was set to be a duo performance with the Wuppertal violinist Gunda Gottschalk, although they did manage to play together informally later that same day. The pair are plotting an imminent replacement gig.

Reid is looking around the city's venues, considering suitable locations for the improvising encounters that she's brewing up for the next few months. She isn't massively interested in livestreaming, so is hoping that in-person gigs will become less prohibitive situations in the next few months. "Everything I'm planning for is in-person," she says. "I think it would be great, especially in the summer, to have shows here [at the improviser's house], because there's a garden. Definitely, with folks back home, I've just said, hey, if you're abroad, let me know, and if I can help in some way, to organise something. I really want to do some kind of string workshop, or maybe a weekly jam session, something that's really string-orientated."

Reid is open to forming a band in Moers, if it feels natural and right. "I've been thinking about how to make opportunities for other people. I'm curious to meet people and see how we vibe."

She'll also be working on compositions during the next year. "I don't see a divide because I think improvisation is composition, it's just not always written down. A lot of the compositions that I write include improvisation. There are various concepts that we want to try, that can shape the improvisation. With my quartet, I write tunes, but there's also improvisation in them."

The Moers Festival programme won't be announced until the end of March, but Reid has a secured forum for presenting musical concepts and choosing ensemble line-ups. Her own quartet will surely be present.

Aside from a short April tour with pianist Myra Melford, Reid's 2022 datesheet is comparatively empty. "I feel like being here is like being on tour for a whole year. It's a real opportunity to check out the German scene, the European scene. That's exciting!"

In the coming weeks, Reid is looking forward to working with the pianist Alexander Hawkins and the singer Sofia Jernberg, hopefully recording with them as well as playing live. She's also intending to record some of her Moers encounters, which are looking like beginning with Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Christian Weber (bass), Lesley Mok (drums), and the Lebanese guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui. "Ideas are popping around!," Reid enthuses....

Tomeka Reid will be active in Moers for the duration of 2022. The festival dates are 3rd-6th June 2022...

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