Tuesday, June 05, 2012

CD Review: Mike Reed's People, Places & Things - Clean on the Corner

Mike Reed's People, Places & Things
Clean on the Corner
(482 Music) www.482music.com

I have often said that I allow myself one or two moments a year to get hyperbolic in print. Consider this one of them because Clean on the Corner should be considered 2012's album of the year. Mike Reed is a busy guy that leads two ensembles (Loose Assembly being the other) plays with a handful of others (including Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms to name but one) and still finds to time to organize events in Chicago like the Hungry Brain's Sunday Transmission Series, which he co-hosts with cornetist Josh Berman. He's also a director of the Pitchfork Music Festival.

With all those irons in the fire, he still finds time to compose creatively and lead a group that, like many others from Chicago, is not afraid of the musical past but still insists on being firmly rooted in the now. With alto saxophonist Greg Ward, tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman and bassist Jason Roebke - and two guest spots each by Berman and pianist Craig Taborn - PP&T plays in a forceful manner that at times creates a feeling of elation, due to their rapport and their individual power.

"The Lady Has a Bomb" begins with a rubato theme that has sort of a playful Ornette Coleman quality to the theme, which Reed punctuates with press rolls. Once they make the opening statement though, he kicks them into a 4/4 tempo that swings fiercely. Ward's alto solo is especially compelling in the way he plays behind and around the beat. He and Haldeman both rasp and tweet comments during Roebke's solo in "Old," a Roscoe Mitchell tune that has the feeling of a Monk blues.

Reed also writes compelling ballads. The brief "December?" sounds like a free ballad, save for some scraping noises from Roebke. It's followed by the slow, long-toned "Where the Story Ends," which seems to earn its title from the way it never settles down in one place. "House of Three Smiles" touches on Ellington richness thanks to the way the two saxes get a rich sound with the addition of Berman's cornet. The latter plays a solo that manages to start buttery and conclude with a more plucky tone. Reed wrote the piece based on a solo his other bandmate Adasiewicz takes in one of the vibe maestro's own pieces.

PP&T's 2010 album Stories and Negotiations paid tribute to unsung Chicago composers while bringing a few surviving Windy City vets into the fold (look for a review on this blog from early 2011). Here, they again revisit the work of the late alto saxophonist John Jenkins with "Sharon." Taborn joins in and the group takes off in a way that could potentially start a Jenkins revival. The piece is an odd slab of bop that switches from minor to major, never settling into a predictable head-solo-head format. By the end, as they're trading fours, it has the aggressive quality of the Sun Ra Arkestra or Charles Mingus' similar excursions that pushed the bop envelope.

When some musicians spread themselves over different efforts, it can result in music that also gets a little thin. That's far from the case here. Reed sounds like he's just getting warmed up, and what he's doing is not to be missed.

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