I think that maybe everyone who hears jazz cellist Tomeka Reid’s 2019 LP, Old New (Cuneiform Records) thinks three things really; 1. Like, wow this is amazing and amazingly entertaining I have to play it again. 2. When will Tomeka have a new record coming out? And finally 3. When are they going to give that woman the $800,000 MacArthur Genius Award? I deliberately put in the dollar amount because no one as far as I know, can conceive of such support for the arts in the UK. And there are geniuses here too you know.
Old New, recorded by the Tomeka Reid Quartet and featuring alongside Tomeka, guitarist Mary Halvorson, Jason Roebke on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. The LP is a mix of original tunes and standards focused by a post-bop, free jazz, minimalist sensibility. It leans into drum and bass, and leans on electric guitar too. Theoretical asides aside, it’s mainly just wildly accessible and entertaining. I think Stuart Maconie tweeted about it. Yep, it's that revelatory/exciting.
Well, no news of a new record from the Tomeka Reid Quartet, but the current (2022) Improviser in Residence at the Moers Festival in Germany, has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship Grant - more commonly known as the Genius Award.
“The 2022 MacArthur Fellows are architects of new modes of activism, artistic practice, and citizen science. They are excavators uncovering what has been overlooked, undervalued, or poorly understood. They are archivists reminding us of what should survive.” - Marlies Carruth, Director, MacArthur Fellows
A recent Darius Milhaud Chair in Composition at Mills College (2019–2021), Tomeka Reid began like so many kids, learning their cello chops in the western/european classical idiom, Tomeka sidewalked into jazz when she began to notice something missing from the jazz shows she’d attend.
Reid grew up outside of Washington D.C., but her musical career began after moving to Chicago in 2000. In 2013, Reid founded the Chicago Jazz String Summit, an annual, three-day series of workshops, master classes, and performances drawing participants from across the globe, honoring jazz's past while driving the field forward and expanding the expressive possibilities of the cello in improvised music. She often performs with the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Reid is committed to a practice of collective creativity, and her compositions often reflect the community where she resides. For the commissioned piece Tokens, she interviewed residents of Dorchester Projects, a neighbourhood on the South Side of Chicago, for inspiration. She drew from these interviews for another commission entitled Prospective Dwellers; this work for string quartet explores the residents’ concerns that encroaching gentrification could dilute the neighborhood’s historical identity.
Anyways. The MacArthur award is exciting news, I am super thrilled and I haven’t won a damn thing ever. I won’t even wonder why. But mainly take the time to find a copy of Old New and her myriad of other collaborations. Most likely make your day a little brighter.
Main image on this page: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
MacArthur Awards website, where some of this text is purloined from is here
Tomeka Reid's website is here
Cuneiform Records on Bandcamp where you'll find Old/New is here
All Cuneiform Records on Bandcamp, here