A lucky gathering of 110 western Massachusetts listeners got to witness first-hand the maturing of a cohort of highly talented musicians moving into mid-career, as the Tomeka Reid Quartet and Tomas Fujiwara’s 7 Poets Trio shared the stage at the Arts Trust Building in Northampton, MA on February 22. The concert -our first ever double-bill - was part of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares’ 12th season.
Cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Tomas Fujiwara were in each other’s ensemble. Vibraphonist Patricia Brennan was the third member of 7 Poets Trio, while guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Jason Roebke completed Reid’s quartet.
The five musicians in the two ensembles are all in their 40s, and over the past decade have blossomed into important figures in the jazz world. In addition to fellowships, awards and commissions, the five have amassed impressive discographies and garnered critical acclaim. Collectively, they are poised to advance the jazz language for decades to come.
Fujiwara’s trio, which performed first, featured his exquisite originals pulled from his new release, Pith. The drummer knew Brennan from their work together in Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus, and Reid from their work in the cellist’s quartet, but Brennan and Reid had never played together before joining the trio, which first came together during Fujiwara’s 2018 Stone residency.
If there was a chamber-like quality to the work, it was a chamber music that included backbeats and agitated swing, as well as delicate, crystalline compositions. On the compact “Swelter”, for instance, a simple, insistent 4/4 cello line provoked a rock beat that evaporated into meter-less abstraction, before returning to the theme. “Solace” had a relaxed, inquisitive melody that loped along on the strength of Reid’s pizzicato bassline, which Brennan mirrored.
There was no soloing in the conventional sense. Brennan, Reid and Fujiwara all played the entire time, with each of them occasionally stepping forward to make a special point. The vibraphone, that most resonant of instruments, filled the space with notes that pulsed and lingered. In concert, it overwhelmed the cello and even the drums at times. All that is corrected on the recording, which allows us to easily hear each instrument.
The Tomeka Reid Quartet has been together since 2015 and has two recordings under their belt. While 7 Poets Trio was touring in support of their recent release, Reid’s group was field testing material generated by a 2021 Chamber Music America commission. After additional stops at Bowdoin College, Brown University, Real Art Ways (Hartford) and the Jazz Gallery (New York), the group will record the pieces we heard.
The pairing of guitarist Mary Halvorson and Reid is an inspired one. Whether playing unison lines or in darting counterpoint, the two MacArthur grant recipients commanded our attention. Having her fellow Chicagoan, Jason Roebke hold down bass chores freed Reid to explore melody and use her prodigious arco technique. I have seen Halvorson perform a dozen times and enjoyed every one of them. But Thursday was a peak experience. Her single notes were crisp and jazzy, and her pedal-induced extensions were used judiciously in service of Reid’s compositions. The Quartet swung from the bottom up and had an easy rapport, which made navigating Reid’s intricate pieces seem effortless.
Patricia Brennan is the most original vibraphonist to emerge in the last half-dozen years, and we have become quite fond of seeing her in the Valley. Thursday was her fourth Jazz Shares appearance in the last 2 ½ years, including a memorable evening at the IMA barn with her own quartet.
Tomas Fujiwara has created a full, thriving career on the strength of his fabulous drumming, formidable writing and band leading talents. Many of his projects, including Triple Double, The Hook Up, Thumbscrew and Illegal Crowns have graced western Mass stages over the years.
Jason Roebke’s new quartet recording on Corbett vs. Dempsey features the legendary Chicago reedman Edward Wilkerson, Jr. He has been a student and close associate of Roscoe Mitchell, and an indispensable colleague with some of Chicago’s most inventive musicians, including Mike Reed, Jason Stein, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Jason Adasiewicz. He’s been recording as a leader since 2003.
Together with Tomeka Reid and Mary Halvorson, these musicians are creating work that is adding real value to the ever evolving jazz lexicon. They’re all hitting their stride at the same time, and I’m glad we get to hear their evolution on a regular basis.
Because of an email misinterpretation of the word “after”, we didn’t get a chance to break bread with the musicians, who were driving to Boston after the show. Without that valuable schmooze time, we didn’t get the full update on all that these five budding masters were up to. But from all indications they are active, in demand and up to great things. We listeners will be reaping the rewards for decades to come.