Tuesday, April 27, 2010

CD Review: Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Stories and Negotiations

Mike Reed's People, Places & Things
Stories and Negotiations
(482 Music)

Even when some of those Chicago guys pay homage to past masters, they still sound like they're on a modern track. The latest by drummer Mike Reed's People, Places & Things bares this out. A percolating group improv kicks off the opening minutes of the album, giving the faint impression that the octet will be blowing free for the entire program. But after a few minutes, they lock into some hard-swinging bop in the form of John Jenkins' "Song of a Star." This might be a lot more straight ahead than the previous minutes alluded to, but Reed's version of straight swings much like Sun Ra's Arkestra (more on them to come) did: the rhythm section moves with so much authority, with a propulsive beat and taut basslines, and takes it beyond any older period of the music and lands with a crash in the here and now.

Reed started PP&T to focus on "under-recorded, under-recognized aspects of the vibrant Chicago jazz scene circa 1954-60" and they've released two previous CDs. This one expands the concept because the core quartet of Reed, Jason Roebke (bass), Tim Haldemen (tenor sax) and Greg Ward (alto sax) are joined by three players from that era - one time Arkestra member Art Hoyle (trumpet, flugelhorn), bandleader Ira Sullivan (trumpet) and extensive sideman and leader Julian Priester (trombone) - plus one more Windy City modern cat, Jeb Bishop (trombone). Less a meeting of old blood and young blood, the 2008 concert recorded for this album presented a group where everyone was on the same page. In explaining the solo order, the liner notes say that the trombonists have a vastly different sound from one another and only attributes one specific solo to Bishop. The rest is just guesswork for the listener. It's frustrating to those of us who want to be sure, but it also shows how cohesively this band works together.

Reed picked four relative deep cuts for the set from the city's history: the aforementioned "Song of a Star" by an alto player known to this writer predominantly for an appearance on an early Hank Mobley album; Sun Ra's "El is a Sound of Joy" is built on a vicious groove pinned down by one of the tenors while the other horns blow in and around it. Wilbur Campbell's "Wilbur's Tune" is another strong piece in a hard bop-esque mold as is Priester's "Urnack" which he recorded with Sun Ra and here starts like "Song" with two minutes of free exchanges of ideas. Clifford Jordan's "Lost and Found" features Sullivan and Haldeman in an old style tenor duel, as well as a penetrating solo from Hoyle, who throws in a quote from "Little Rootie Tootie" as things almost unwind.

The drummer also penned one piece each for the veteran guests of the set. "Third Option," for Hoyle, has rich voicings that ought to impress fans of large ensembles as traditional as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, which speaks to Reed's skills as a composer. "Door #1," dedicated to Priester, begins like a loose tone poem, before locking into a progression that could slip into "You Don't Know What Love Is," with an exquisite quality to match that standard. Sullivan's salute, "The And of 2," features not only his tenor but Ward's alto getting prodded along by shouts from the other horns during solos.

What feels especially exciting, musically, about this meeting of minds is that Stories and Negotiations looks at the past but it concerns itself with making today's music that's more than just a tribute.

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