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Last Year's Ghost
Jay Collins
Now that we are quite a few generations past the origins of the Chicago School of Free Jazz spearheaded by the AACM, Chicago still ranks as one of the most important homes for creative music. While Ken Vandermark and his associates are justifiably feted, there exists an extremely talented crop of younger players that gig regularly around town in less-than-pristine, yet lovable places like The Empty Bottle, The Hungry Brain, The Velvet Lounge, Elastic, and The Hideout. Brewing at these spaces is music that mixes improv, Jazz and other musical realms that thrive on a free-spiritedness that only a city like Chicago could percolate.

One of Chicago’s unjustifiably overlooked players is drummer Mike Reed, who might not play out seven nights a week, but demonstrates that he is a major force on this debut of his Loose Assembly group. Three years in the making, Loose Assembly’s palette mixes terse, interlude-like snippets that feature improvised textures, as well as fully-composed melodic lines that feature buoyant grooves or gripping balladry. Putting aside Reed’s compositional structures for a moment, the session also stands out from a crowded pool due to its instrumental makeup and the quality of these players. Specifically, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, a remarkably adroit colorist, adds his glowing beauty and twisted attack where necessary, while cellist Tomeka Reid doubles up on melodic threads or bulks up backing terrains (with an excellent example of both at work on “Exorcism”). In addition, the group boasts the talented bassist Josh Abrams and surely someone who will hopefully be given a date of his own soon (or at least a heap of recognition), alto saxophonist Greg Ward, who supplies both fluid lyrical lines and biting tone fragments.

Of the eleven tracks split evenly between worlds, the pieces that stick out are those that tread along more formal compositional lines. The second cut, “Day Of The Dead,” offers a reflective, yet restless groove that mixes Free Bop and all-out experimentation, particularly from Ward. Speaking of Ward, he is absolutely at his best on the beautiful balladry of “Afterthoughts” where he caresses the lovely theme, mixing modernity with a dash of tradition (yes, is that Johnny Hodges?), a mood that also absorbs on the pensive “Simone’s Crumbs” and the highpoint for Reid and Ward, the subtle cinematics of “Dreaming With Jill.” The quintet also proves their joyous uptempo swing on “The Entire State of Florida,” featuring a strong bass solo from Abrams, as well as the airy, yet driving beats over his ostinato on “Ghost Writer.” As for the brief improvised pieces credited to the full quartet, “Flowers” opens the discs with ominous, metallic sounds while “1974” is the most skittish of the pieces heard here. Further, Reid’s “Old Souls” weds string scraping with a sensitive, through-the-fog melody that simply floats in the air.

Last Year’s Ghost is a wonderfully unique debut from one of Chicago’s great young scenesters. Anyone with an interest in Chicago’s vibrant creative music community should not hesitate to relish this mix of structure and freedom.

Back to Loose Assembly: Last Year's Ghost album page.
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