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Tomeka Reid Quartet: Old New (Cuneiform)

A review of the cellist led group's second album

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Tomeka Reid Quartet, Old New
The cover of Old New by the Tomeka Reid Quartet

Few records embody the spirit of jazz in 2019 as well as the new release from the Tomeka Reid Quartet. A cellist who began her rise in Chicago during the ’00s as a sidewoman in groups led by Mike Reed, Nicole Mitchell, and others associated with the AACM, Reid leads a stellar group through nine compositions that blend tradition and innovation seamlessly. Her ensemble includes guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and they nimbly move through a wide range of musical styles—with influences ranging from Renaissance to Roscoe (Mitchell)—changing lead and support roles with ease. Solos feel organic rather than scripted, and group improvisations arrive at unsuspecting moments.

Highlights include “Wabash Blues,” where Halvorson, Fujiwara, and the leader all reference the titular genre without a whiff of cliché. “Niki’s Bop,” a nod to a mentor, gently glides into an engrossing group improvisation. “Aug. 6” is a tour de force of skittery pizzicato and percussion that transitions into a noir-ish tune riding Halvorson’s knotty lines and Reid’s puckish responses. “Edelin” offers fragments of sound that eventually cohere into a warm passage anchored by Roebke’s bass; Halvorson then blows things up, followed by Reid. “Peripatetic” leads with a cello-and-drum duet before bass and guitar dive in and a tug-of-war between the entropy of group improv and tight melodic structure ensues.           

2019 may have been Reid’s breakout year. In addition to this superb recording, she performed admirably on Dave Douglas’ Engage and Fujiwara’s 7 Poets Trio. However, Old New should function as a benchmark both for Reid and for the variety of virtuosity that can be found in today’s jazz.

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