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Rockin' Our Turntable: Mike Reed's People, Places & Things' Clean On The Corner

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 13, 2012 8:40PM

2012_6_13cleanonthecorner.jpg Like pretty much every other jazz musican working in Chicago, Mike Reed is one busy cat. Just listing all the projects and groups he's been involved with lately, which include working on the Umbrella and Pitchfork music festivals, and drumming in Loose Assembly with Jason Adasiewicz, would take up an entire post. That kind of ceaseless cross-pollination is invaluable when it comes time to make a record. His newest album proves again that as far as Reed is concerned, the sounds, styles, and tunes of the "then" are every bit as vibrant of those of the "now." The album boasts a stellar mixture of dusted off and freshly minted tunes segueing with disarming ease between noisy rumpus, laid-back swagger, and pensive delicacy, often in the same piece.

Clean on the Corner is the fourth release from his awkwardly titled ensemble Mike Reed's People, Places & Things. As he recounts in his amusing liner notes, "We had previously churned out three records in two years and had done a bunch of live dates so it seemed appropriate to take our time with the new one ... Well that luxurious idea went by the wayside. A month later with ten hours of studio time split over 3 dates I had the record written, mixed and mastered." This is a group with fire and ideas to burn. Clearly the "nice and easy" route isn't their way; once they start playing, their near-telepathic interaction feels unstoppable.

And it doesn't matter what kind of tune it is either. Reed and his crew meld together as beautifully on the funereal "December?" and "Where the Story Ends" as they do on a churning number called "The Lady Has a Bomb" or their jaunty cover of John Jenkins' piece "Sharon." Incidentally the latter (as well as another track) spotlights a welcome guest appearance by pianist Craig Taborn. It's hard to put your finger on it, but something about his presence seems to add a certain carefree zest to such a horn-heavy ensemble (Greg Ward and Tim Haldeman on saxophones and Josh Berman on cornet). Reed himself on drums and Jason Roebke on bass fuse together into an unobtrusive anchor that adds rhythm and coloration to the other sounds. It's particularly true in the album's coda, the brief "Warming Down," a mainstay of Reed and Berman's Sunday night shows at the Hungry Brain. A mere wisp of an idea becomes both enigmatic and oddly humorous under their guidance.

In his notes Reed seems vaguely troubled by his difficulty contextualizing all this music; "what do all these tunes have to do with one another?" in other words. But the answer is simple: regardless of what's been played or how they're playing it, the musical intelligence of each member of the group shines through. Clean corners indeed. This is one contemporary jazz album that's just plain delightful to listen to. That's enough for us.