Mike Reed

Flesh & Bone
482 Music 482-1100

Hot on the heels of an incident when his touring band was caught in a melee between fascist skinheads and the police in Poland, Chicago drummer Mike Reed moved things closer to home and composed these meditation on his life as a Black musician in the U.S. Less programmatic than this preamble would suggest, Flesh & Bone’s 11 tracks mostly express thoughts through music, although a couple of tunes featuring rapper Marvin Tate add a skein of nationalistic rhetoric to the program.

Besides Reed’s skilful, but wholly unobtrusive drumming, the rest of the sextet is made up of some of the Windy City’s most accomplished improvisers, part of Reed’s generation. They include the drummer’s long-time associates, saxophonists Greg Ward and Tim Haldeman plus bassist Jason Roebke. Expanding the compositions’ scheme upwards and downwards are cornetist Ben Lamar Gay and bass clarinet crusader Jason Stein. Following Jazz tradition while most compositions are shaded by the contributions of multiple players, some also serve as individual showcases. For instance the drummer’s dedication to his Chicago percussion elders, “The Magic Drum” is a wizardly run-through of inventive techniques that can be applied to frame drums, choke cymbals and triangles. Reed’s ruminations on the dangers faced by recent refugees, mates a (Middle) Eastern-sounding motif to a woody double bass solo that culminates in calming sequences. Meanwhile “I want to be Small – For Archibald Motley” honors the Harlem Renaissance painter’s 1920s and 1930s Chicago sojourn with an atmospheric line that’s all blended pastels, with its hues expressed in period-perfect Johnny Hodges-like riffs by alto saxophonist Ward.

Tougher reed intersection from the saxophonists plus expert dips into the emotional chalumeau register by Stein serve as a riffing backdrop for “Conversation Music”, which is otherwise a Lamar Gay showpiece as he peppers his narrative with bleats and blasts. Overall, though the stand-out track is “My Imaginary Friend” which recreates motifs from melodious to miasmatic to chart the evolution of a contemporary improvising musician. Intertwined vibrations from Ward and Haldeman’s tenor saxophone comingle and wrap around one another in unison staccato, as Smith snarling timbres personify the tough neighborhood an aspiring musician had to negotiate. Doubled ruff drumming and thumps from Roebke, plus popping cornet brays and reed slurps make the scenario more bellicose, until, a false near-atonal ending is superseded by a finale in which all the players’ tones connect.

Reed’s skill as a bandleader and composer and this group sympathetic interpretation of his music confirm the strength of his instrumental conception and, to be honest, make the spoken word interjections superfluous.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Voyagers 2. First Reading: SF Sky 3. Conversation Music 4. A Separatist Party 5. The Magic Drum 6. My Imaginary Friend 7. I want to be Small – For Archibald Motley 8. Second Reading: Me Day 9. Watching the Boats 10. Call of Tomorrow 11. Scenes from the Next Life

Personnel: Ben Lamar Gay (cornet); Greg Ward (alto saxophone); Tim Haldeman (tenor saxophone); Jason Stein (bass clarinet); Jason Roebke (bass); Mike Reed (drums) and Marvin Tate (words)