Tomeka Reid

Hairy Who & The Chicago Imagists
Corbett vs Dempsey CvD CD 017

By Ken Waxman

Distinctively titled with one of the names Chicago’s Imagist group of visual artists gave to their art shows in the 1960s, Windy City cellist Tomeka Reid creates a soundtrack that stands on its own without visuals. As minimalist in its orientation as the Imagists’ style reflected the Surrealists, Reid’s suite is performed with only her cello, Adam Vida’s percussion, plus very sporadic vocalizing from the composer and Kiara Lanier.

With the 19 tracks lasting from just over three minutes to slightly less than one, Reid has a limited timeframe in which to establish her themes that characterize individual painters. She does so decisively by utilizing unique pizzicato and arco sequences, often simultaneously plus multi-tracking her instrument. Vida’s input is just as crucial, since his smacks shuffles and clatters amplify all sorts of allusions and elements suggested by Reid’s musical portraits. The tunes are as apt to bring in gypsy violin allusions (on “Buttermilk Sky”) as jazzy finger-snapping (“The Enterprize Encounterized by the Spydar People”). Other sound pictures include pastoral pseudo chamber music; folkloric warbling from the vocalists; and sequences where cello twanging approximates raunchy near-Rockabilly.

Reflecting the ever-changing nature of the artists’ works, the “Imagist Theme” is heard three times; each one radically different. While the introduction is built on a walking bass line and cello sawing, the conclusion harmonizes vocals and contrapuntal string lines, cementing the appeal of this captivating CD. Crucially, the Imagists’ stomping grounds was near where the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM), of which Reid is a member, was born. Adopting the ACCM’s use of unexpected timbres from everywhere to create distinctive music, Reid cannily underlines the breadth of the Imagists’ contributions.

—For MusicWorks #121 Spring 2015