Mike Reed's Loose Assembly - "The Speed of Change" (The Speed of Change)
Young Chicagoan Mike Reed might be best known as the organizer of the Pitchfork Music Festival. But he’s also one of those exciting percussionists – a drumkit polymath like Nasheet Waits or Tyshawn Sorey – who’s got incredible technical facility but resists the temptation to overload his music with flash and bustle. He’s a fine thinker first and foremost, a generous bandmate, and a savvy leader and composer. The best drummers are concerned primarily with space, of course, and Reed’s in this class. His various ensembles reveal a sound instinct for instrumentation, and he makes good use not only of able improvisers but thinks deeply about sonic template.
On The Speed of Change, Reed plays with Loose Assembly (altoist Greg Ward, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Josh Abrams, and cellist Tomeka Reid, with a couple guest appearances from flautist Nicole Mitchell), whose sound recalls Dave Holland’s mid-1990s groups, especially on the rolling “Exit Strategy.” But the distinctiveness of this session outweighs its influences. The languorous strings contrast marvelously with the vibes, in terms of both timbral contrast and the way Reed uses them to establish layered tempi, while the leader’s hypnotic kit work sets up all kinds of great textural and rhythmic possibilities. Greg Ward’s alto sax is really wonderful, as he creates tart little cells of melody and line here, elsewhere dissolving into the lengthy resonance of Reid’s cello and Adasiewicz’s vibes. The vibraphonist has a considerable range of attack and timbre, he’s able very creatively to shade Ward’s sax on their sweet duo “X.”
But not all the tracks are extended essays in color. There are little scuffles here and there, with some tracks (like the busy group improvisation “Ground Swell”) devoted entirely to skittery, jumpy exchanges. There’s also a simply marvelous rearrangement of Max Roach’s “Garvey’s Ghost,” adding Nicole Mitchell in the role of Abbey Lincoln, which somehow doesn’t suffer overmuch from eschewing the fantastic 5/4 of the original. And as much as I like the spacey material – the gauzy closer “Picking up Greta,” which sounds like Reid has some wah on her cello, or the intense dirge “Soul Stirrer” – it’s also hard not to jump up when listening to Abrams and Reed play the gorgeous lilt “Tezetaye Antchi Lidj.”
Reed’s strengths are equally audible on his other recent 482 Music release, Proliferation, which features his group People, Places & Things (with Greg Ward on alto and clarinet, Tim Haldeman on tenor, and Jason Roebke on bass, with everyone playing percussion and piano too) and is devoted to music produced in Chicago. It’s also a killer set, with a few Reed originals mixed in with some MJT+3, Wilbur Campbell, a pair of Ra tunes (along with one my all-time fave hard bop tunes, “Status Quo,” from Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore’s Blowin’ in from Chicago). So I listen to Reed’s music and I enjoy the hell out of it, as it’s thoughtful and visceral at the same time. But each spin also brings me back to another thought: Yeah, jazz is doing just fine, thanks. Listen if you need some proof.