And sometimes one has to do a classic double take, refocus on the hidden pearls of yesterday, and let that hit the chest in a new way. Indeed, after an abstract opening, one is immediately drawn to drummer Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things projects. A trilogy focusing on the lost and undiscovered music of the Chicago jazz renaissance from 1954-1960, during the Beat heyday, Reed completes his project with an engaging work that amplifies and accentuates his ‘hidden Windy City gold’ thesis, which is also enhanced due to the presence of three Chicago musicians from that mid-20th century era: Art Hoyle, on trumpet and flugelhorn, Julian Priester on trombone, and Ira Sullivan on tenor saxophone. Each musician shares the solo spotlight during various moments on this rather fascinating trilogy finale, rendered significant in many artistic ways by Reed.
Stories and Negotiations was recorded live in Chicago in Millennium Park, which is located within Grant Park, itself, on August 25, 2008, just a few short months before ex-Chicago senator Barack Obama would give his acceptance speech at that location after winning the Presidency. There is that satisfying aspect of an alternate historical timeline at play here on this fertile-minded album, where Chicago is being reassessed and reborn within the music that one may not have heard. Reed gathers five reinterpreted covers, and offers three original pieces, one each for his illustrious guests from the Chicago that time did not forget after all.
John Jenkin’s “Song of a Star” is speculative and inquisitive without a deep sense of penetration. Which is good in this film noir context. This is jazz on the edge of the heart of the city, away from the popular swing, and best assimilated within a mysterious frame, rather than attempting to contain the World of ‘Just Blow, Man’ inside its interior. Reed’s “Third Option (for Art Hoyle)” tune drifts and lifts and plays with subtle nuance, with brass solos shooting off in defined directions. At its best, the piece is transcendent and unpredictable, but always played with restrained taste. “El is a Sound of Joy,” a Sun Ra composition, featuring Art Hoyle and Julian Priester, two veterans of the avant-garde jazz leader’s band, is a spectacular ride through a multi-dimensional universe where layers of sound play off, absorb each other, and coagulate into something else—freewheeling yet controlled, again, the piece floats along while tethered to a warm foundation anchored by Jason Roebke on bass, and the always stalwart Reed on drums.
Wilbur Campbell’s “Wilbur’s Tune” is an effervescent juggernaut, brass solos spinning everywhere, bass and drums, tight and confident, the overall vibe, quick and gritty, and almost played at such a clip that one thinks the tape has been sped up. But it hasn’t. These cats just play the tune like that, and man, it’s exhilarating. “The And of 2 (for Ira Sullivan)” is playful and intellectual, as the journey appears random, as if Sullivan knows where he’s going on tenor sax, but he’ll sort of Zen his artistic way there. “Door #1 (for Julian Priester)” is patient and off-kilter, avant-weird in its dimensions, but with a careful architect’s OCD-attention to detail. In the end, the languid strange duality of the tune succeeds because it steps away from some of the other free-form parallel-soloing going on throughout the album. Succinct, exploratory, heady, memorable and different—and why the trilogy was made.
Priester’s own composition, “Urnack” follows, and continues the experimental investigation of the corners of the music, rather than its forefront colors. The piece also succeeds, like its predecessor, because it rolls the momentum back, slows down tempos, and provides an ample platform for some of Reed’s more inventive drum work while being yet another showcase for the sublime Roebke on bass. Clifford Jordan’s “Lost and Found,” closes Stories and Negotiations, which completes the Mike Reed trilogy, a study of mid-20th century Chicago jazz music, outside the mainstream of that movement, and pushes the tempos back up to a fast pace, serving as a resonating conclusion to the album and trilogy—lost and found music, which makes you think and groove, can be vital listening, too. One just needs to think twice inside the cultural time machine.