AACM | David R. Adler on Mike Reed and Jeff Parker

For Ars Nova Workshop's AACM: Great Black Music Festival, we've asked several leading jazz scholars and journalists to engage performers in a series of pre-concert public discussions about the history, present, and future of the AACM. On Monday, June 13 at the Maas Building, writer (Jazz Times, New York City Jazz Record) and Queens College jazz history lecturer David R. Adler will talk with young AACM members Mike Reed and Jeff Parker, whose duo performance will precede the discussion and a performance of Henry Threadgill's “Background” by the Collide Saxophone Quartet. We're pleased to share with you a short essay written on Reed and Parker by Adler for Ars Nova Workshop.

It’s safe to say that Muhal Richard Abrams, Phil Cohran and other AACM founders weren’t just out for themselves when they launched the organization in the mid-1960s. Rather, they sought to create a legacy of artistic freedom, an example for new generations. Guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Mike Reed, standing at the forefront of today’s energized Chicago improvising scene, are an embodiment of that legacy.

Parker has issued such fine recordings as Like-Coping and The Relatives. He’s distinguished himself as a member of Tortoise, Isotope 217 and other head-turning, hard-to-classify bands. He’s also worked with AACM stalwarts Ernest Dawkins and the late Fred Anderson, the Chicago Underground in its various forms, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble and Matana Roberts’ Chicago Project, not to mention the Brian Blade Fellowship, Joshua Redman’s Elastic Band, the Scott Amendola Band and more.

Thoroughly at home with rock, blues, straightahead swing and open-form experimentation, Parker brings a dry, biting guitar sound to his musical encounters, including his provocative duo with Mike Reed. Both Reed and Parker are members of Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, appearing together on such releases as Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra and We Are All From Somewhere Else. Their duo music hails from the same universe: rough-edged, percussive, sonically inventive, yet marked by a pared-down intimacy.

I took the opportunity to hear Parker and Reed at the Stone in New York in early January 2009, with fellow Exploding Star member Matt Bauder joining on tenor saxophone. I’m eager to check in with them and hear how the relationship has evolved.

Reed has served as chair of the AACM since 2009, and his work as a bandleader reveals a deep investment in the history of Chicago jazz (as I wrote about in this 2008 feature for JazzTimes). Tipping his cap to the overlooked hard-bop scene of mid-1950s Chicago on the album Proliferation, Reed and his quartet played music by John Neely, Walter Perkins, Tommy “Madman” Jones and others. With his group Loose Assembly on the 2010 disc Empathetic Parts, Reed showcased AACM pioneer Roscoe Mitchell on the title track (a half-hour-long Reed original) and on “I’ll Be Right Here Waiting,” a Steve McCall piece from the repertoire of Henry Threadgill’s classic trio Air.

As it happens, Ars Nova Workshop is bringing Roscoe Mitchell to Philly on June 12th, the night before the Parker/Reed duo. And Threadgill’s piece “Background,” performed by the Collide Saxophone Quartet, will follow the Parker/Reed duo set on the night of June 13th. In our discussion with Jeff and Mike during the set break, we’ll further connect all these dots, discuss the AACM’s “Great Black Music” credo, and take the measure of what George Lewis, in his scholarly tome on the AACM A Power Stronger Than Itself, called “one of the most important contributions of the latter half of the twentieth century to jazz, and even to world music history writ large.” (David R. Adler, 2011).