Mike Reed – Flesh & Bone (2017)

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Imagine that you and a few of your friends are suddenly dropped into the scene of a violent, neo-Nazi rally far away from home and a couple of people in your group are black. And further, imagine having to endure this tense and frightening situation for hours before being rescued local authorities. This in fact happened to Mike Reed and his band…not in Charlottesville this year (2017) but in Prerov, Czech Republic in 2009.

The drummer, composer and bandleader eventually processed that unforgettable experience into art six years later and on August 25, 2017 the finished product will be available to the public. Flesh & Bone (482 Music) never directly addresses that fateful event where Reed and his People, Places & Things quartet narrowly escaped injury or worse, but he uses that for an occasion of broader reflection and a pointed reminder that the evil forces that engendered some of the most devastating human tragedies in history are still with us today. Sadly, recent events back in America serve only to amplify that cautionary tale, which Reed did not foresee when making this music but it nonetheless adds further poignancy to this project.

That quartet of his was called upon to bring Reed’s musical ruminations to fruition: Reed, bassist Jason Roebke and saxophonists Tim Haldeman and Greg Ward. Bass clarinetist Jason Stein and trumpeter Ben Lamar supplements the core People, Places & Things ensemble with extra horns. And, crucially, Marvin Tate occasionally adds spoken words to this collection of avant-garde jazz pieces to amplify the intent Reed seeks to get across.

Haldeman delivers initial thoughts on tenor sax for “Voyagers,” joined later by Ward on alto, with Stein and Lamar injecting themselves into an increasingly layered tapestry. Just as the tune reaches its apex, it shuts down to make way for Tate’s poetic monologue “First Reading SF Sky” spoken with preacher-like fervor (“…we close our eyes tight for fear that we too will fall into the huge black hole..”). Stein’s darting bass clarinet connects that with “Conversation Music,” a piece where Stein improvises no longer against the words from Tate but now versus the charts of the rest of the horns, later trading places with a spunky Lamar.

Everyone gets a say in “A Separatist Party,” a funky stomp held down tight by Reed and Roebke, while the Reed-only “The Magic Drum” is a gentle patter of tone-rich percussion.

“My Imaginary Friend” opens up with an RnB blast of brass, followed by an unaccompanied solo address by Ward and then a joyful burst of swing by the full band, with Lamar playing like he’s on fire.

Balladry makes its first appearance with “I Want To Be Small,” Ward’s sweetened lines leading the way.

Tate returns in “Second Reading Me Day” and against the background of courtly horns speaks of “a fucking train wreck and an ocean spill of insecurities.” “Watch The Boats is Roebke’s moment in the spotlight, prior to introducing the key figure that provides a springboard on which the wind instruments harmonize in an complex weave.

On “Call Of Tomorrow,” the band breaks in on Tate mid-sentence with a busy groove and a boisterous front line that matches his attitude. “Scenes From The Next Life” closes the album departing from the usual way of music-making as it’s musique concrète mostly of spoken word snippets uttered in many language, held together by Reed’s straightforward bass line.

It’s probably a little too hyperbolic to call Flesh & Bone the most important release of the year. At the same time, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of its message at this critical time. But even if you don’t get the message, the music brings more than enough flair to stand on its own.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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