Living By Lanterns

New Myth/Old Science
Cuneiform Records Rune 345

Mike Reed’s People Places & Things

Clean on the Corner

482 Music 482-1081

Drummer/bandleader Mike Reed has established himself as, among things, a deft interpreter of Chicago’s progressive music history. Nothing like a neo-con however, rather than imitation or emulation he and his People Places & Things create new variations of the city’s rich 1950s and 1960s Jazz heritage. On these exceptional sessions, he, and sidekicks, alto saxophonist Greg Ward – on both discs– and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz – on New Myth/Old Science – have taken the next step: integrated their own compositions with earlier ones.

Recorded a year apart, each session is completely unique. Clean on the Corner for instance integrates six Reed lines with tunes by saxophonists John Jenkins and Roscoe Mitchell and is played by the drummer and alto saxophonist plus tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman and bassist Jason Roebke with cornetist Josh Berman and pianist Craig Taborn sitting in on two tracks each. Commissioned by Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio, the seven tracks on the other CD were composed, arranged orchestrated the vibist and drummer from fragments extracted from a rehearsal tape marked “NY 1961” in the Sun Ra Audio Archive. Approaching the scope of Ra’s Arkestra, the co-leaders constructed pieces for a band made up of cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, guitarist Mary Halvorson, cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Joshua Abrams, drummer Tomas Fujiwara and electronics manipulator Nick Butcher as well as themselves and Ward.

Cleverly integrating his own concepts with Bebop tropes, Reed’s compositions for People Places & Things are most clearly appreciated when examined next to Mitchell’s “Old” and Jenkins’ “Sharon”. A Bopper of the first magnitude, Jenkins (1931-1993), recorded with heavyweight like tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan and guitarist Kenny Burrell in the mid-1950s then vanished from the scene. “Sharon” is the prototypical Bebop line that echoes “Hot House” and includes gritty reed bites from the saxes, and in the same way as the two reedists suggest Jordan and Jenkins, Taborn, in the Sonny Clark role, takes solos on the Jenkins’ tune that are both chromatic and pulsing. Closer to our time, “Old” has well-harmonized horn parts, a blues sensibility and, following a Malachi Favors-flavored bass solo, a finale of smears and snarls.

Close cousin to that piece and the early Art Ensemble is “The Lady Has a Bomb”, all bent notes and drum pops that balance on shrieks and cries from Ward’s and Haldeman’s flutter-tongued obbligatos. Roebke’s pumping bass line and an unaffected bounce from Reed characterize the slow-paced “Where the Story Ends,” as the altoist’s slurps and slides curve around the theme at the same time as he maintains a linear solo. Berman’s buttery flutter-tonguing at the beginning and end of “House of Three Smiles” adds as much to the performance as the vamping horns.

Confirming the consistency between the two discs, “House of Three Smiles” is a pseudo-contrafact Reed composed based on a solo Adasiewicz once took on one of the vibesman’s own tunes. Appropriately enough it’s the vibraphonist and Bynum’s cornet styling here which help distinguish these Sun Ra reconfigurations from more derivative salutes by other bands. A fast swinger, “2000 West Erie” provides a point of comparison with the other session. Bynum’s high-pitched triplets, Reed’s rugged drum beats and the metal-bar resonation from Adasiewicz, are only slightly distant from the concepts on the Jenkins’ line – 1961 was very close to 1957 after all – however the frenzied multiphonics played by Laubrock relate to free-form conceptions that relate more fully to the advances of saxophonists like Albert Ayler and the Arkestra’s John Gilmore.

Not only do Adasiewicz’s and Reed’s arrangements manage to give the nonet the breath and power of a big band – a quality inherited from Ra – but pointed licks from Mary Halvorson’s guitar, Reid’s string sweeps and the occasional electronic processing confirm historical links to 21st century experimenters. Cascading and agitated sequences outline these connections, but so does the swing sense which Reed and company inherited from Ra. Also demonstrated is instrumental juxtaposition that calls on the older bandleader’s flirtation with exotica. “Shadow Boxer’s Delight” is one instance. Throughout, the horns’ sinewy pitch-sliding abuts sweet cello slides, while vibe, bass and guitar chord harmonies bring forth mysterious tonal implications.

From that point on subsequent tunes appear to meld into one another with the players’ expressive solos and section work exposing as many altissimo and staccato patterns as those which are simple, linear and, in a way, impressionistic. Cross-timbres abound, but very little of the sort of free-for-all tone expansion that would be Ra’s and the Arkestra’s stock-in-trade later in the 1960s and throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Stand-out work still shows up in the form of the guitarist’s colorful tremolo strumming, the cornetist’s low-key flutters, bassist Joshua Abrams’ connective and woody pacing and the cellist’s sul ponticello sweeps.

The 1961 time frame was a little early to fasten onto Ra’s latter quivering space chords or jocular space chants, but the high standard of playing and composing on New Myth/Old Science indicates that other experiments of this nature should be attempted. Not forgetting that Clean on the Corner is another high quality indication of these present-day Chicago musicians’ first-string talent.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Clean: 1. The Lady Has a Bomb 2. Old 3. December? 4. Where the Story Ends 5. Sharon& 6. House of Three Smiles* 7. The Ephemeral Words of Ruth& 8. Warming Down*

Personnel: Clean: Josh Berman (cornet)*; Greg Ward (alto saxophone); Tim Haldeman (tenor saxophone); Craig Taborn (piano)&; Jason Roebke (bass) and Mike Reed (drums)

Track Listing: New: 1. New Myth^ 2. Think Tank 3. 2000 West Erie 4. Shadow Boxer’s Delight^ 5. Forget B 6. Grow Lights 7. Old Science

Personnel: New: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet); Greg Ward (alto saxophone); Ingrid Laubrock (tenor saxophone); Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone); Mary Halvorson (guitar); Tomeka Reid (cello); Joshua Abrams (bass); Tomas Fujiwara (drums); Mike Reed (drums and electronics) and Nick Butcher (electronics)^