Tomeka Reid Quartet: Tomeka Reid Quartet
Is there anything more familiar in jazz circles than a quartet recording? Maybe so, but there's absolutely nothing stale about Tomeka Reid's eponymous debut outing. For one thing, the front-line here isn't a trumpet-and-tenor sax combo but instead cello and guitar and even better the Chicago-based leader on cello and the wondrous Mary Halvorson on guitar. Identifying Reid as the leader isn't unwarranted, but in terms of playing the band is more like a gathering of equals. Reid and Halvorson naturally compose the front-line, but bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Tomas Fujiwara are robust contributors in their own right.
Though the album is Reid's coming-out as a leader, she's been developing her craft and vision for many years as an educator and in association with figures such as Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, and Nicole Mitchell, and consequently her writing and playing on the release impress as mature; in addition, her impeccable judgment in choice of bandmates is borne out by the chemistry displayed throughout the recording.
What makes the tunes on this collection so satisfying is that while they exemplify fully the spirit of contemporary experimental jazz they also swing, something clearly evident the moment the band tears into “17 West,” a delicious slice of post-bop penned by Eric Dolphy. Reid and Halvorson attack the tune side-by-side, the cellist stabbing with her bow and the guitarist splintering jagged shards into the air—here and elsewhere, it's great to hear her cut loose without at the same time holding back on her natural spikiness.
Not only is Reid a fabulously daring cello player, she's also a great writer. On “Etoile,” the quartet digs into the cut's delicious theme, which the rhythm section supports by deftly alternating between bluesy swing and Latin-tinged episodes. For her part, Halvorson offers up her own oblique twist, bending and blurring the lines and allowing dissonance to seep into the solo. Reid also honours the late violinist on “Billy Bang's Bounce” with a performance that swings so exuberantly, one pictures Bang smiling somewhere on high. Funkier by comparison is “Samo Swing,” which Fujiwara powers with confident invention.
On this stellar release, Reid's and Halvorson's unpredictable moves command one's attention every step of the way. The way they elevate the shuffling “Woodlawn” with a constant flow of ideas makes for exhilarating listening, and even a ponderous number such as “The Lone Wait” has much to recommend it when their interactions are so compelling. That the recording is credited to the Tomeka Reid Quartet is also encouraging in suggesting that the set's not a one-off. The stars consistently align on this oft-mesmerizing outing, and hopefully Reid can keep this terrific Chicago-meets-New York outfit together and give us another stellar collection like this one sometime soon.