Even jazz fans who follow recordings coming out of Chicago might still not have heard of cellist Tomeka Reid. Before 2015, when Tomeka Reid Quartet
was released, she worked mostly as a sideman (side-person?) with such local luminaries as Nicole Mitchell
and Dee Alexander
, as well as participating in the AACM. Given that it's her debut as leader, Quartet is a remarkably assured recording, programmed with an excellent sense of pace and point. Performances don't outstay their welcome and fit together in a larger whole. This is a musical statement rather than a brochure advertising everything Reid can do.
Jazz on cello is unusual but hardly unknowncheck out Henry Threadgill
's Sextett for starters. More distinctive is Reid's use of a strings-and-skins ensemble. Mary Halvorson
, guitar, Jason Roebke
, bass, and Tomas Fujiwara
, drums, join Reid on a program of the leaders' originals, joint improvisations, and a tune by Eric Dolphy
thrown in for good measure. (If one "classic" jazz recording hovers over much of the Chicago improvisatory scene in the first decades of the twenty first century, it's Dolphy's Out to Lunch
.) Reid is a charismatic player as likely to bow as pluck her instrument. She's never showy, always communicative and cogent. Also, she's mostly in tunenot always a given with jazz cello. Halvorson, for her part, flourishes in this relatively grounded setting. She is an excellent listener (and counterpuncher) and her chemistry with Reid is palpable throughout, especially in the two short "Improvs." Thirsty Ear's engineer captures Roebke's bass in all its woody glory, and Roebke underpins several performances with irresistible riffs, his solos dovetailing beautifully into Reid's structures. Fujiwara, who appears with Halvorson in Thumbscrew, maintains the balance of tonal freedom and earthy directness that distinguishes this recording. Living By Lanterns
, an album based loosely on material left by interplanetary emissary Sun Ra
, provides an earlier example of Reid meeting Halvorson on record, so if you're curious, look that one up too. Reid's quartet was absolutely killer at the 2014 Chicago Jazz Festival (excerpts, at least, can be found on Youtube) and their first recording fulfills the promise of that live date. Here's hoping Reid and Halvorson have many more encounters on record. Both thrive from the partnership.