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Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things - About Us

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Artist: Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things

Album: About Us

Label: 482 Music

Review date: Nov. 6, 2009

Percussionist Mike Reed’s latest project for his People, Places & Things ensemble picks up where the last one left off. Second in a planned trilogy of releases celebrating Chicago’s jazz lineage, About Us turns the page to band originals that celebrate regional tradition without feeling rote or played out. From the opening head-solos relay chase of “It’s Enough” it’s evident that the band members share Reed’s reservoir of history. Altoist Greg Ward and tenorist Tim Haldeman work the frontline with a keen sense of harmonic confluence and melodic interdependence. Reed’s springy, switchback-riddled compositions elicit the best in both players by building in plenty of latitude for free expression amidst the tight ensemble sections. Three of the 10 pieces enlist the input of colleagues outside the core quartet. Reedist David Boykin, trombonist Jeb Bishob and guitarist Jeff Parker, all names familiar to followers of new millennial Windy City jazz, each has the opportunity to run down his own tune.

Reed’s relationship with his kit is similarly magnanimous. His sticks and mallets supply shading, color and supple momentum from a position of support, and he regularly resists the temptation to muscle in with mighty press rolls or cymbal cascades. That unflagging attention to nuance and space immediately echoes elder drummers like Paul Motian and Vernel Fournier. Further proof of deference to his colleagues, he holds off until, “Under the Influence of Lunar Objects,” the set’s second to last track, to indulge in a solo. It’s well worth the wait and a fine measure of percussive precision and restraint. Bassist Jason Roebke works from a comparable position of controlled agency, laying down punchy bass lines and ostinatos that enhance Reed’s fluid beats and embolden the horn soloists.

Boykins’ “Big and Fine” veers from a saucy bump-and-grind shuffle to some heated horn polyphony, but winds up sounding a bit overcooked by the end. His boisterous tenor holler collides with the equally raucous Ward and Haldeman, tipping over into knowing parody through an accelerating coda that brings to mind the Dutch antics of the Willem Breuker Kollektief minus some of the meticulousness. Bishop’s “Big Stubby” opens unaccompanied; Roebke’s scuttling bass joining the composer’s tailgate smears in a close debate before Reed’s drums seize on a swinging “crime jazz” groove. Parker’s “Days Fly By (with Ruby)” winds the program out on another brow-furrowing vamp forward on his fatly-amplified strings. It makes for a curiously piebald blend with Ward’s airy alto entrance and improvisation that somehow clicks. Reed’s notes preview the project’s forthcoming final volume, another promising conclave inviting certain influential members of Chicago jazz royalty to the party. Primed by the beauty and vitality that characterizes the first two outings, it’s easy to harbor high hopes for the third.

By Derek Taylor

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