Most of us know or associate with the cello as a staple of the classical and post-classical world, an instrument whose deeper breaths can elicit comparisons to the bowels of sadness. (Jazz polls, for example, list it under “Miscellaneous.”) In Queens-by-way-of-Chicago musician Tomeka Reid’s hands though, the thing swings. Reid recently released the second outing by the quartet bearing her name – Old New, out via Cuneiform Records – and the new LP surely will make you question your assumptions about the role of the cello in contemporary jazz. The cello just sings and whistles and shouts on this LP, all of it with distinctly jazz-minted phrasings.
Reid is ably assisted throughout by Mary Halvorson (guitar – and a particularly excellent and engaging solo on “Wabash Blues”), Tomas Fujiwara (drums) and Jason Roebke (bass), with Fujiwara’s shuffling Krupa-isms tilting the scales between mastery and bravado. But Reid, who the Jazz Journalists Association recently crowed Violinist/Violist/Cellist of the Year (again), is the real bandleader and star of the show, and her strings flash bright reference points of angularity (the pizzicato-tinged “RN,” where she’s paired with excellent bass solo-age), turmoil (the cataclysmic final third of “Peripatetic”), even a kind of joyful swagger (the infectious “Niki’s Bop”).
The quartet flashes its contemporary-jazz credentials briefly on “Sadie,” where clutters of bass and harmonic cello lead into an alarmingly comfortable groove. And the record closes with the previously mentioned excellence of “RN,” where Halvorson’s guitar and (sometimes) Fujiwara’s drums hint at post-rock (!) and Reid’s sustained sawing feels thoroughly modern. The opening title track, an excellent offering at the other end of the album, toys with the time manipulations and, yes, even the hesitant sentimentality of Tin Hat Trio.
And there’s more to go around. Old New is bubbling with ideas, as well as an energy that feels too surging to be over-composed but too exacting to be improvised. A great listen.