Clean on the Corner
Chicago-based drummer Mike Reed has so many irons in the fire — indie-rock festival promoter, all-around local impresario — that it’s easy to forget what an accomplished musician and bandleader he is. The latest disc from his group People, Places and Things is both a great reminder and a document of his development as a composer.
The band was originally conceived as an ode to Chicago jazz from 1954 to 1960. Reed hasn’t let go of that concept completely — the disc includes pieces from old-school Chicago saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and John Jenkins. And on this set of mostly original material, Reed’s debt to past masters is often obvious. The major theme of “The Lady Has a Bomb” recalls vintage Ornette Coleman in both its harmonic and rhythmic development. But other tunes look decidedly forward. The push-pull tempo of “The Ephemeral Words of Ruth” is distinctly contemporary, as is the moody “House of Three Smiles,” based on Chicago vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz’s “I Hope She is Awake.”
The front line of Greg Ward on alto and Tim Haldeman on tenor brings an effortless exuberance to all the material. Reed is a mostly understated drummer, though he sometimes likes to punctuate the melodic line or a soloist’s statements with a series of snare pops (“The Lady Has a Bomb”). Pianist Craig Taborn provides a sample of his otherworldly range on two tracks. On “The Ephemeral Words of Ruth,” his solo floats dreamily on top of Reed and bassist Jason Roebke’s musings, while on Jenkins’ hard-charging “Sharon,” Taborn swings as easily as any classic bebop musician. Cornetist Josh Berman, a close associate of Reed’s in the Chicago jazz scene, delivers warm, casually elegant lines on “House of Three Smiles” and “Warming Down.”
By looking ahead more than behind, this disc represents a transition for Reed and company. It’s terrific on its own and leaves you eagerly awaiting the next phase of the group’s development. —John Frederick Moore