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Mike Reed’s Loose Assembly: Empathetic Parts

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From disappointment good things can indeed come. Mike Reed’s acclaimed People, Places & Things was preparing to perform at Chicago’s 2009 Umbrella Music Festival when the band’s scheduled special guest, the great Los Angeles cornetist Bobby Bradford, was injured and unable to make the trip from the coast. The ever-resourceful Reed had two ideas: to recruit AACM legend Roscoe Mitchell, with whom he had played recently, and to plug him into a new extended work by Reed’s other band, the AACM-modeled Loose Assembly.

Mitchell had little time to learn the piece, which, recorded live at the Hideout, runs nearly 34 minutes. But the open, weblike structure of “Empathetic Parts” suits him perfectly-as does the spirited lineup of alto saxophonist Greg Ward, cellist Tomeka Reid, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and bassist Joshua Abrams. While Mitchell holds down the center with his swarming soprano and provides jolts of dissonance on alto, steadily shifting factions of Loose Assembly move around and interact with him, usually in twos or threes. Their movements are mysterious: The effect is that of the players moving through rooms where the only light is provided by their instruments. Occasionally a straight-ahead moment breaks out-a walking bass is detected at 19:43, and there’s a vibes-bass-drums trio elsewhere along the way-but the band moves to its own internal drummer.

The album also features departed AACM great Steve McCall’s “I’ll Be Right Here Waiting.” Elegiac without being nostalgic, Loose Assembly polishes the Air gem with great care and feeling.