Loose Assembly, Mike Reed Duets | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Loose Assembly, Mike Reed Duets

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Local percussionist Mike Reed might be best known for his activities away from the drum kit: he's one of the two curators of the Hungry Brain's Sunday-night jazz series, and last year he was the lead organizer of Pitchfork's great Intonation festival. But he's been a steady presence in the local jazz and improvised-music scenes for the past five years, working with groups like the Treehouse Project, the David Boykin Expanse, and Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra. Some new recordings should bring attention to his superb, restrained playing. In the Context Of (482 Music), an album of improvised duets between Reed and guitarist Jeff Parker, synthesizer player Jim Baker, and flutist Nicole Mitchell, captures Reed at his most abstract--his playing is mostly coloristic, though he'll also insert rhythmic passages that propel and cajole his partners. He sets a surprisingly light-toned metallic clatter against Parker's spindly, harmonics-rich tangles; crafts a more structured framework for Baker's heaving analog gurgles and whinnies; and gilds Mitchell's every move as she balances the lyricism at the heart of her playing with breathy experimentation. Reed can keep time, break down grooves, drive the bus, or paint pictures--sometimes in the same piece--but his decisions are driven by what's best for the ensemble. That's true even when he's in charge, as with his quintet Loose Assembly. I caught a terrific performance by them two weeks ago--their first in nearly a year--and even though Reed wrote nearly all the tunes, he kept the focus on group interaction. Bassist Josh Abrams holds down the groove while vibist Jason Adasiewicz plays off cellist Tomeka Reid and alto saxophonist Greg Ward; the latter two frequently play unison lines, and all members contribute solos. Ward in particular is a dynamo--he's surely the next Chicago saxophonist who'll make a big national splash. The group's debut album, Last Year's Ghost, comes out on 482 Music in April. Reed will first duet with Parker, Baker, and Mitchell; Loose Assembly will play the second set. Sun 1/29, 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested.

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