I start to grin when a new People, Places & Things album arrives – Mike Reed’s feisty freebop can be captivating for several reasons, but it’s all beholding to one key element: the raucous sense of swing that invariably sits front and center. The Chicago-based drummer likes his small ensemble to project the oomph of a larger outfit. Almost every element is unafraid of doing a little pushing and shoving to bolster the band’s collective whomp. From Clifford Jordan’s bluster to Sun Ra’s hubbub, that’s part of the Windy City spirit, I guess – let’s move some bodies around a bit. But Reed’s two-sax working band carries out its mission with unusual aplomb. Its agitated throw-down teems with a signature strut.
And perhaps even more so with A New Kind of Dance (482 Music), the band’s sixth outing and a program dedicated to the art of movement. Team Reed veers through quite a few rhythmic variations in support of the thesis that fuels the album’s title. Along the way they tweak the orthodoxy of waltzes, horos and kwelas in order to add improvisation and its exuberance to the mix. From the swirling romp of “Candyland” (with all the surprise swoops it could’ve been called “Chutes and Ladders”) to the punchy groove of Mos Def’s hip-hop beats (which are bolstered by a sassy recollection of Reed’s occasional blues band gigs), they bend expectations just enough to keep you guessing. Art guides it all, but the bulk is overt pleasure music. There’s been lots of head-bobbin’ going on in the house this week.
For this date the band is occasionally joined by pianist Matthew Shipp and trumpeter Marquis Hill. The brass player bolsters the high-flying Balkan motifs of “Markovsko Horo” and hot-wires Michael Moore’s South African nod “Kwela For Taylor” with the kind of the animation that’s central to essaying joie d’vivre. Fans of Shipp know he’s expert in both developing poise and raising the roof. The title cut benefits from the latter, which the pianist ratcheting things up to a boiling point.
But it’s PP&T’s horn players, Greg Ward and Tim Haldeman who carry the day. They’ve been weaving their lines together for years now, and the compatibility is obvious. The squirrely unison lines of “Candyland,” the abstract scrambling at the start of “Jackie’s Tune,” the breathy romance of Strayhorn’s “The Star Crossed Lovers” – whether going balls-out or whispering a ballad, they parlay their singular differences into a combined asset.
On 2013’s Second Cities, Vol 1, Reed tipped the hat to Amsterdam and its adventurous clique of improvisers. This time he covers tunes by two of its key players, Michael Moore and Sean Bergin. If you haven’t heard a Dutch blues shuffle driven by a fierce little rhythm section (bassist Jason Roebke gooses everything across the board on this album), you’ll soon understand that with the kind of splash Reed dispenses on “AKA Reib Letsma,” a South Side gin joint can be conjured almost anywhere.