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Drummer Mike Reed has made a name for himself not only as a drummer/percussionist, composer, and leader of several ensembles, but also as a programmer and organizer of both Jazz/Improvised Music and Rock events. As a player, Reed isn't the kind of musician that will blow the doors down with a whirlwind of chops or technical showmanship. Rather, his strengths lie in his ability to drive an ensemble with subtle verve and taste or by coloring an arrangement with creative conceptions. Such skills have led him to be a popular choice for quite a few bands on Chicago’s fertile creative music scene.
Up first is Reed's ingenious ensemble, People, Places & Things, with their debut on Proliferation. Consisting of a quartet made up of Reed and reedist Greg Ward, tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman, and bassist Jason Roebke, Reed, and his cohorts mine the repertoire of mostly obscure pieces by Chicago Boppers of the late '50s. With Reed's goal of presenting pieces by unknown folks like Tommy "Madman" Jones or John Neely to known quantities like MJT+3, Sun Ra, and John Jenkins with a modern spin, Reed casts these gems, as well as his own into an inspired mix of old and new. While the group is surely an attuned unit, the joy is hearing how the horns of Ward and Haldeman interact, such as on the Sun Ra nuggets of "Saturn" or the rugged "Planet Earth." Amidst the driving rhythm section, the duo also soars on anthems like the MJT+3's "Is-It," Jenkins’ "Be-Ware" (from Wilbur Ware"s The Chicago Sound), the bounce of Neely's "Status Quo" (a brilliant cut from the Clifford Jordan/John Gilmore record, Blowing In From Chicago) and Jenkins' soulful "Pondering." Reed's compositions also offer an important homage to the tributes included herein, with the meditative "Places" being a standout. An inviting tribute to forgotten or underappreciated music that offers further evidence of Reed's gifts as a bandleader.
The Speed of Change is the second release from Reed's Loose Assembly conglomerate, a group pairing Reed with the clever sounds of Ward, cellist Tomeka Reid, vibist Jason Adasiewicz, and bassist Josh Abrams. For this project Reed places a greater focus on the improvisational portion of the spectrum, with an open-ended compositional palette that merges melody and improv. That is not to say that the melodic components are disregarded, though despite an interest in such development, the outings unravel in a free-flowing manner that doesn't necessarily follow a particular paradigm. Arguably, the most accessible moments include the vivacious take on Max Roach’s "Garvey’s Ghost," bassist Josh Abrams' showpiece on the beautiful African-tinged "Tezetaye Antchi Lidj," and the uptempo "Exit Strategy," with its galloping waltz time. Speaking of musical moods, the record is full of a sense of drama, resulting in a program that demands deep listening. The opening cut, "The Speed of Change," sets the stage as a shimmering fresco, while "Ground Swell" indicates a growing sense of adventure and the gorgeous cello musings of "Picking Up Greta" play upon emotive environs. As a side note, it is also worth mentioning that Ward's inventiveness throughout shows why he is one of Chicago's brightest stars. Another winner from Reed's ensemble that hopefully has plenty more to say on subsequent documents.