Written by Kevin Whitehead from National Public Radio
Drummer Mike Reed put together his quartet People, Places and Things to play music by their 1950s forebears. But it makes sense that, after a few years together, they’d also play later pieces, tracking the evolution of Chicago jazz on a new album titled Clean on the Corner. One dividend of their repertory work is that it inspires Reed to write his own tunes in the same spirit, like “The Lady Has a Bomb.”
In the last few years, the quartet has played dozens of gigs in Chicago, on tour in the U.S. and in Europe. Drummer Reed and bassist Jason Roebke have grown into a tight and flexible rhythm team. Saxophonists Tim Haldeman and Greg Ward on alto know how and when to blend and diverge and get in or out of each other’s way.
Playing all those swinging hard-bop tunes has sparked Mike Reed as a drummer. His broad beat and accents are very Chicago, a little more casual than New York pressure-cooker swing. Chicagoans have long pursued a third-coast middle way, a little cooler than back east and hotter than out west. In the ’60s, New York free jazz was frenetic; Chicago’s was quieter and more carefully paced. People, Places and Things honors that legacy, too. Mike Reed’s “December?” reverses the usual roles between the front line and rhythm section. Saxophones play in quiet support, while bass and drums float on top.
Most of the tunes on Clean on the Corner are new, but there’s an oldie by the Chicago composer the band champions above all: overlooked bop saxophonist John Jenkins. His “Sharon” features a loose guest appearance by new star pianist and fellow Midwesterner Craig Taborn.
As composer, Mike Reed has a knack for slow tunes that linger in the ear. In two of them, the quartet is joined by cornetist Josh Berman, who has that lag-behind-and-then-catch-up Chicago timing. Reed based the composition “House of Three Smiles” on a recorded solo by his vibraphonist buddy Jason Adasiewicz. It’s a sign that these days, People, Places and Things’ members don’t just preserve the Chicago tradition; they’re helping extend it.