Tomeka Reid at the Blue LLama Jazz Club

Cellist and composer Tomeka Reid’s quartet alighted at the Blue LLama jazz club for two sets on Wednesday, November 6, the last stop of a Midwest tour celebrating their newly released CD /Old New/.

SEMJA Review

The stellar lineup of Reid’s “string group” consisted of Mary Halvorson, guitar, Jason Roebke, bass, and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. These musicians have played with one another in different configurations on countless occasions, and therefore it was to be taken for granted that they would exhibit admirable cohesion; nevertheless, the collective consistent unity of purpose was striking.

Reid has drawn critical acclaim over the last decade and has established herself as the premier cellist in improvised music, but the quartet provides a perfect vehicle for the exploration of her compositional and arranging skills. As far I was able to determine, except for Eric Dolphy’s “17 West,” which was already featured on her 2015 album by the same quartet, all of the material played that night was written by the leader. The other compositions were also drawn from the two recordings by the group, including “Billy Bang’s Bounce” and “Woodlawn” from the first and “Old New,” “Sadie,” and “Peripatetic” from the new one. The compositions are highly melodic and express a variety of moods; the composer is also able to utilize the two melodic instruments, cello and guitar, to express seemingly unlimited sound combinations and textures. Some explored the outer edges of the music, but many were more traditionally structured. She also varied the rhythms, taking full advantage of the dynamic interactions between Roebke and Fujiwara. Her own improvisations, whether played arco or pizzicato, were technically impressive and emotionally infused.

The second set, perhaps invigorated by the rich deserts from the LLama’s wonderful kitchen, may have provided the musicians with an extra kick to top off a wonderful evening of exploratory but always swinging jazz.