Rufus Reid is acknowledged as one the most distinctive and revered bassists in jazz, having been a mainstay for such giants as Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and countless others. This recording, Celebration, more than anything else though is a testament to Reid’s skills as a composer with six of these eleven as originals. Nine of these tracks trace to a 2016 recording for a vinyl only recording for Newvelle Records, released in 2017, a series of pieces that alternate trio recordings with those bolstered by the Sirius Quartet, one of the world’s most renowned string units. The trio represented here is pianist Steve Allee and drummer Duduka Fonseca. Those pieces have now been remastered and re-sequenced for CD and digital release along with two new bookend pieces, one written by Reid and one by Allee, both of which feature the Sirius Quartet and drummer Kenneth Salters. Reid dubs this working trio, the Out Front Trio. Sirius Quartet members are violinists Fung Chern Hwei and Gregor Huebner, violaist Ron Lawrence, and cellist Jeremy Harmon.
Reid’s thrust changed dramatically after attending the BMI Composers Workshop in 2000 as prior to that he had never studied big band arrangements. Since then, he has authored large ensemble jazz as well as classical projects. Celebration marries both. For reference Reid issued the big band projects – Skies Over Emilia (2000) and Quiet Pride (2014); and on the classical side, Mass Transit, a three-movement symphonic work. So, Celebration becomes Reid’s original take on “third stream” music, the merging of jazz and classical. Like any genre mashup, purists often decry the integration of two different styles but honestly, we’ve seen several examples of this approach recently just in 2021, notably Terence Blanchard’s 2021 Absence with The Turtle Island String Quartet, Fred Hersch’s, Breath by Breath (Palmetto, and Helen Sung’s Quartet (Sunnyside). Said many times, musicians care little about genre boundaries and audiences, especially younger ones, increasingly care little too.
The opening standout titular track is adapted from Reid’s quintet work and is a prime example of how the swinging jazz merges with the strings, who pick up on the buoyancy of the piece, especially in the violin solo from Huebner and the cello turn from Harmon. “Cedar’s Blues” is of course from friend and collaborator Cedar Walton, rendered here in shuffling, stomping fashion by the trio with Reid stepping out in a spirited pizzicato solo, following bright piano from Allee. Redi’s “This I Ask of You” begins with a plucked interchange between Reid and the two violinists and as the string quartet joins, strains of John Coltrane filter in. We hear more soloing first from Reid and then Allee against a rather intricate, oscillating rhythm pattern. References to Trane continue through Reid’s trio piece, “it’s Time to Shout Out,” which draws from A Love Supreme’s “Resolution.”
In keeping with the alternating pattern, the strings reappear on Reid’s “Celestial Dance,” bringing a grace and eloquence to one of his favorite pieces that he’s rendered in several previous configurations. Reid can’t get enough of Coltrane, turning again to him in the gorgeous, delicate trio piece, “Tranescape,” which nods to Trane’s balladry, heard both on his quartet album Ballads and its companion album of sorts, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. “Tippin,” from Allee, ratchets up the tempo once again, with the strings dancing to Allee’s sparkling piano, evoking the “feeling good” mood which in jazz parlance, is the title. The trio continues the light, upbeat mood in Reid’s “You Make Me Smile.”
“One for Amos” was written by fellow bassist, Sam Jones, long a pivotal member of Cannonball Adderley’s combos. As such, this one carves a soul-jazz path for the trio in honor of club owner, Amos Kaune. The closer, Allee’s repurposed “The Rise of the Row” is the longest piece at just shy of ten minutes as it delves deeply into contemporary classical, specifically Arnold Schoenberg’s tone row compositional device. As on the opener both Sirius and drummer Kenneth Salters are aboard.
Reid, his trio, and Sirius not only bring a blend of jazz and classical, but you’ll hear blues, swing, and sublime balladry. It’s a sumptuous feast for the ears.
- Jim Hynes