Chicago has a strong tradition of trailblazing musician-organizers, of which the AACM and Ken Vandermark are the most frequently cited examples. Add Mike Reed to the list, who has arguably received more mainstream recognition for founding the Emerging Improvisers Organization and producing the Intonation Music Festival than for his music. The drummer-composer’s first CD with Loose Assembly should initiate a more balanced appraisal of his activities, as it is a well-designed collection of hook-filled tunes and atmospheric interludes. The mid-register luminosity of his front line of alto saxophonist Greg Ward, cellist Tomeka Reid and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz highlights the melancholy of “Simone’s Crumbs,” while accentuating the Nichols-like gait of “Afterthoughts” and the slinky feel of “The Entire State of Florida.” On the latter, as well as tracks like the simmering “Ghost Writer,” Reed and bassist Josh Abrams lay down an infectious flexible groove that lets Ward churn, Reid soar and Adasiewicz sparkle. Loose Assembly also has an incisive approach to sound-based improvisation, be it the light industrial sound of “Flowers” or the Art Ensemble-informed “1974.” In lesser hands, this would have been a bumpy ride; but a big part, if not the core of Reed’s acumen as a composer-leader is making this wide assortment of materials a coherent whole. Though it has its merits, Reed’s only previous album – 2006’s In The Context Of
, also issued by 482 Music – is a collection of impromptu duets with Jim Baker, Nicole Mitchell and Jeff Parker that, while documenting his considerable skill set as a percussionist and improviser, does not really prepare the listener for this fully realized statement. Just a few more recordings like Last Year’s Ghost
and Mike Reed will be in the first rank of living American bandleaders.