AMN Reviews: Tomeka Reid Quartet – Old New (2019; Cuneiform Records)

The title track of Old New kicks off the album with an aggressive rhythm from bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Tomas Fujiwara – aggressive both in its driving, rock-oriented approach as well as how it evolves to fit into a recording of modern, creative jazz. Group leader and cellist Tomeka Reid joins in with electric guitarist Mary Halvorson to share a theme that alternates between a jagged staccato motif, a short catchy tune, and loosely-structured improvisation. The pair trades off lead duties and soloing in a collaborative and ego-less fashion that sets the tone for the recording as a whole.

Improvisation, of course, is a strength of this group. Nonetheless, Reid’s writing keeps the efforts grounded and rarely approaching all-out free jazz.  She provides a few nods toward the tradition while heading off into uncharted waters. Indeed, the title of Old New is a descriptive fit for this strategy. Still, at a few points, Reid’s playing is clearly outside, with staggered melodies and extended techniques.  Aug. 6 is a great example that seamlessly morphs into one of the more interesting themes of the album. Edelin is another in which the structure is unconventional and varied with powerful soloing.

As an accompanist, Halvorson provides her signature pitch bending, speed picking, and unusual chording. Fujiwara is an exceptionally versatile and busy drummer, both muscular and subtle. Roebke is a monstrous and accomplished bass player who can do it all – for an example of this one need look no further than Ballad, on which he adapts his playing from straight rhythm to more adventurous undercurrents that match Reid’s and Halvorson’s explorations.

Reid has long been on the periphery of outside music, quietly contributing to the efforts of giants such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, and various AACM efforts, not to mention serving as a contributor on recordings from Nicole Mitchell, Taylor Ho Bynum, and Jaimie Branch. She has also co-led a number of groups. This is the second release of her self-named quartet. About four years ago she started appearing more on more on my radar, and has not let up since then. All of this suggests that Tomeka Reid is a talent on the rise.

Old New will be released on October 4, and is an excellent effort that should not be missed.

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