TOMEKA REID QUARTET

Tomeka Reid grew up outside of Washington D.C., and came to the cello relatively late. Concentrating on classical music in her teens and early 20s, she started investigating jazz her senior year at the University of Maryland, College Park when her undergrad mentor encouraged her to start exploring the tradition.

Moving to Chicago in 2000 to attend a graduate music program at DePaul University she connected with flutist/composer Nicole Mitchell, a relationship that recalibrated her entire aesthetic orientation. While she was embraced by the improvisational music scene, Reid learned to make her own way, which was both liberating and extremely challenging. She found the ideal outfits for evolution as a member of several celebrated Chicago bands.

She  co-leads the adventurous string trio Hear in Now with violinist Mazz Swift and bassist Silvia Bolognesi. When the time came to launch a band to play her original music, she sought out advice from Nicole Mitchell, who suggested Halvorson. Reid was already working with Fujiwara in Mike Reed’s fascinating Sun Ra-inspired ensemble Living By Lanterns (which released the acclaimed 2012 Cuneiform album Old Myth, New Science). Approaching both players made eminent sense. Halvorson and Fujiwara already played together in the collective trio Thumbscrew with bassist Michael Formanek, and power Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus. The three of them are also the foundation of Halvorson’s quintet Code Girl, a project introduced on the acclaimed 2018 album of the same name. Halvorson and Fujiwara first started playing together in cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum’s Sextet (Reid joined an expanded version of the band on 2016’s Enter the PlusTet). Among other bands, they also work together in the collective quartets Reverse Blue (with Chris Speed and Eivind Opsvik) and The Thirteenth Assembly (with Bynum and violist Jessica Pavone), and the trio The Outlouds with clarinetist Ben Goldberg.


3+3



RUNE 525

No artist over the past decade has done more to bring the cello from the margins to the center of the contemporary jazz scene than Tomeka Reid. Nurtured by the creative hothouse of Chicago’s AACM, she’s recorded prolifically since making her debut on flutist Nicole Mitchell’s 2002 Black Earth Ensemble album Afrika Rising. But with 3+3, Reid takes a major step as a composer with a bold and protean approach to designing settings for group improvisation.

Building on the deeply intuitive language explored by the quartet on her acclaimed Cuneiform debut, 2019’s Old New, Reid set out to explore extended themes with bassist Jason Roebke, drummer Tomas Fujiwara and guitarist Mary Halvorson. Over the course of three pieces that flow together much like a set the group plays in concert, the album captures the state-of-the-art ensemble moving with unhurried grace, constantly calibrating the evolving conversation.

“I see the whole album as a suite,” says Reid, who moved back to Chicago in 2020 after about four years in New York. “Previously I’d written shorter pieces and felt like I had to write ‘jazz pieces’, and for this album I wanted to write longer forms. I do a lot of free improvisation and wanted to reflect that more on my records. There are tunes on this too, but it’s more open.”

Reid wrote the 3+3 music with the support of a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works Commission and she ended up writing the pieces while an artist in residence for the Moers Jazz Festival in 2022. The quartet premiered it during her residency at the Stone in August 2023, an apt setting to navigate the ebb and flow of a freely improvised and tunes-based program. The music gathers momentum over the course of several movements, not so much tracing a narrative arc as circling through a series of loose and limber themes and tempo shifts.

Part of what’s new for Reid is her expanded sonic palette, which can make it difficult to tell where her bow work and Halvorson’s electronics diverge. “As a string player, I used to be anti-electronics,” she says. “I love the acoustic cello sound. But playing with Mary, I really love how it’s part of her voice, not something extra. So, previously, I strived to make electronic sounds acoustically using different preparations as that was something I was earnestly exploring and now I feel ok incorporating electronics.”

The opening “Turning Inward/Sometimes You Just Have to Run with It” builds to a simmering, cymbal- propelled groove with extended statements by Reid and Halvorson that eventually converge in a gorgeously rough-and-tumble pas de deux. Opening with Reid’s muscular pizzicato solo, “Sauntering with Mr. Brown” captures the quartet’s well-honed practice of eliding the usual delineation of foreground and background. “I think about not having people in specific roles,” Reid says. “There are places where I’m doing an arpeggiated part that normally a guitar would do. I’m always thinking about how to loosen conventions that might limit us.”

Set up by Halvorson and Tomas “Exploring Outward / Funambulist Fever” features some of Reid’s most exquisite playing. The quartet’s arresting use of space, with quiet, abstract passages bleeding into denser group improv and brisk call and response themes, maintain dramatic tension until the dramatically abrupt conclusion. It’s liberatory music that takes these well-traveled musicians into places and spaces where unheard facets of their sounds are revealed.

If Reid’s music seems to draw on a multiplicity of sources, that’s because she’s absorbed a mind-boggling array of influences over the past 15 years via collaborations with veteran visionaries connected to Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Since the mid-aughts she’s performed and recorded with Anthony Braxton, Nicole Mitchell, Roscoe Mitchell (no relation), and the collective he co-founded, the Art Ensemble of Chicago. She’s also worked closely with contemporaries such as drummer Mike Reed, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, and Angelika Niescier.

In recent years she’s toured with and recorded two acclaimed albums as part of pianist Myra Melford’s Fire and Water Quintet (which also features Halvorson). Reid is a member of the Julius Hemphill Stringtet, a string quartet dedicated to the work of Julius Hemphill, and is also laying plans for presenting her own Stringtet, a 16- piece ensemble made up of string improvisors.

Embracing her role as a champion of creative string players on and off the bandstand, she founded and runs the Chicago Jazz String Summit. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Among the many honors and awards she’s garnered are being voted 2022 string player of the year by the Jazz Journalists Association and named a 2022 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow.

Currently, an artist in residence at Dartmouth College, Reid grew up outside of Washington D.C., and came to the cello relatively late. Concentrating on classical music in her teens and early 20s, she started investigating jazz her senior year at the University of Maryland, College Park when her undergrad mentor encouraged her to start exploring the tradition. “He came up with this book of Rufus Reid bass lines and I would read them and do these little gigs around DC,” she recalls. Moving to Chicago in 2000 to attend a graduate music program at DePaul University she reconnected with flutist/composer Nicole Mitchell, whom she had met in a classical orchestra in the summer of 1998 and a relationship that recalibrated her entire aesthetic orientation. While she was embraced by the improv music scene, Reid learned to make her own way, which was both liberating and extremely challenging.

“After I met Nicole she introduced me to the Velvet Lounge where I encountered members of the AACM and learned about their work and various aesthetics. While attending the Velvet Lounge, I was often the only string player,” Reid says, referring to the South Loop jazz spot that was then owned and run by tenor sax great Fred Anderson.

3+3 press release

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OLD NEW



RUNE 465

"Old New is bubbling with ideas, as well as an energy that feels too surging to be over-composed but too exacting to be improvised. A great listen." – Music Tap

The jazz polls might still list cello under the miscellaneous instrument category, but in the hands of Tomeka Reid it’s an essential vehicle for unfettered jazz exploration. Old New, the second album by the Tomeka Reid Quartet, is a project that exemplifies why she’s quickly become a definitive figure on the 21st century jazz scene. As a composer, arranger, improviser, bandleader, and impresario, she embodies jazz’s progressive ethos. Crafting memorable tunes brimming with arresting textures and melodies, Reid creates music palpably connected to the tradition while recasting those sounds to meet her own expressive needs. Old new, indeed!

While Reid has recorded prolifically since making her debut on flutist Nicole Mitchell’s 2002 Black Earth Ensemble album Afrika Rising (DreamTime Records), Old New is only her second album leading her own band, following up on the eponymous Tomeka Reid Quartet (Thirsty Ear). Like that 2015 release, the band’s second album features a brilliant cast with guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, who play together in at least half a dozen different ensembles, and Chicago bassist Jason Roebke. It’s essentially a string band, an electro-acoustic hybrid in which any player might take on bass, melodic or rhythmic responsibilities at any given time.

“I wanted to have a string-centered group,” says Reid, who was recently voted Violinist/Violist/Cellist of the Year for the second consecutive time by the Jazz Journalists Association. “I wanted a harmonic instrument, but not piano and I wanted to go in a different direction. For this quartet I like Mary’s manner of using pedals in interesting and creative ways. You can hear right away that it’s her. I like that contrast with me being all acoustic in this ensemble.”

Based in Queens since 2016, Reid wrote much of the Old New music with the support of a grant from Roulette Intermedium. The album opens with the title track, a slippery piece that almost serves as a manifesto for an artist consciously building on the work of her most adventurous string predecessors. It’s a Reid original “that’s an old form, a hymn,” she says. In much the same way, “Wabash Blues” opens with Fujiwara’s clattery trap work, a jittery introduction for an incident-filled soundscape inspired by the changeable energy of the Chicago block where she lived before moving to New York City.

Reid is as effective evoking people as places. “Niki's Bop” is a tribute to her dear friend and mentor Nicole Mitchell, a joyous, terpsichorean line that practically shimmies. “I could imagine her playing that melody on flute,” Reid says. “She’s a huge inspiration in my life. There’s nothing better than writing a song for somebody.”

Mary Halvorson was a source of inspiration for “Ballad” and the piece’s coiled energy, conversational flow and wry asides seem to reveal facets of the guitarist that aren’t necessarily apparent. “The melody reminded me of something about Mary’s personality, sweet, no nonsense, reserved, and yet funnier than most people might know,” Reid says.

Written for her maternal grandmother, “Sadie” is a boppish line that’s as poised and elegant as the woman herself. Designed to feature Roebke, “Edelin” is a mysterious, slow-breath piece that takes on density as it goes. “Jason should be much better known,” Reid says. “He does great, interesting work, and being in Chicago you can get overlooked. There are so many people doing interesting things there.”

Reid closes the album with “Peripatetic,” an Anthony Braxton-inspired tune that covers a lot of distance in a relatively short span, from the portentous opening statement to the skittery mid-section to the almost operatic conclusion. Speaking of gorgeous melodies, the pizzicato-powered “RN” offers a glimpse at Reid’s love of pop music, with its incantatory refrain and unabashed lyricism. It’s a sweet sign off, and an implicit promise that there are many more realms for this band to investigate.

If Reid’s music seems to draw on a multiplicity of sources, that’s because she’s absorbed a mind-boggling array of influences in a relatively short period of time. Over the past decade she’s collaborated with veteran visionaries connected to Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), performing and recording with Anthony Braxton, Nicole Mitchell, Roscoe Mitchell (no relation) and the collective he co-founded, the Art Ensemble of Chicago. She’s also worked closely with contemporaries such as drummer Mike Reed, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, and veteran masters such as Nicole Mitchell and pianist Myra Melford, among many others. Reid has embraced her role as a champion of creative string players, on and off the bandstand. “I’m a big advocate for strings in improvised music, particularly violinists, violists and cellists who are their own leaders,” says Reid, who founded and runs the Chicago Jazz String Summit. “A lot of my projects are centered around string players.”

“What’s awesome as a cellist is that we can create a sound for ourselves,” said Reid, who was recently awarded a prestigious grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. “We do have a history, but not the same kind as trumpet, saxophone and pianists for example, with hundreds and hundreds of predecessors. I’ve come to appreciate that a lot more.” With Old New, Tomeka Reid has staked another flag in the future.

Old New press release

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3+3
Old New

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3+3 press release
Old New press release

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