Mike Reed's Flesh and Bone Review - Musical meditation and reflection

I was drawn to Mike Reed’s program, Flesh and Bone, for several reasons:  The catalyst for the work took place in the Czech Republic, the country my brother has called home for many years. Additionally, the issue of race in modern society is one that I grapple with on a daily basis as a high school teacher in a racially diverse suburban high school.  Finally, as a great lover of art in its many forms, I’m always fascinated to see how artists interpret and express what’s going on in the world through their artistic lens.


Mike Reed

In April of 2009, while touring with his band People Places and Things, drummer Mike Reed found himself in the middle of a Neo-Nazi rally in the Czech Republic. Reed, a black man, and his band were forced to escape, hiding and ultimately being escorted by police into relative safety. 


Since then, Reed has had a desire channel this negative experience into an artistic one – and on November 20th at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of their Extensions Out Series produced by gallery owner and School of the Art Institute professor and jazz critic John Corbett, Reed premiered Flesh & Bone, a new work inspired by his and his band’s experience.   


In the program notes, Reed eloquently recounts the origin of the programs name, Flesh and Bone:  The incident has been well recounted, reported and even exaggerated.  However, its usefulness in any form is a reminder of the inescapable essence of not only my being black, but also an internal struggle to live an inner expression of our humanity.  However, the two cannot be without the other, as has been pointed out before, the flesh is all you have.  Everything you find out, you find out through your senses.  Everything awful that happens to you and everything marvelous that happens to you happens to you in this, mortal envelope….The music and its performance are not about any single event but rather sonic thoughts between the extraordinary and the common.   Mike Reed website


The venue, Fullerton Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago, is stunning, and it was fascinating to see jazz in such a setting.  Once the program began, I noticed that there were changes and additions, which appears to be quite common when it comes to programs such as this.  I was delighted to see that there were two spoken word performers, Marvin Tate and Kevin Coval.  Mr. Tate was a powerful and poetic performer with a deeply resonant voice and lovely singing voice.  Mr. Coval is someone I’ve seen before through his work with Young Chicago Artists and the Louder Than a Bomb slam poetry competition.  And while I expected a “typical” jazz performance with breaks in between pieces of music, the program was continuous and flowed from one piece to another. 


Along with the music and spoken word, projections of paintings were also displayed above the performance space, some abstract, some not.  As I took the performance in, I wondered quite a bit about Mr. Reed’s process in creating the piece; had he used the feedback from the public while he composed the music?    Had he written the text himself or collaborated on it with Mr. Tate and Mr. Coval? 


I’m certainly no expert when it comes to Jazz music, but I thought the Flesh and Bone Ensemble was extraordinary with Ben Lamar Gay on cornet,  Greg Ward on alto sax, Tim Haldeman on tenor sax, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Jason Roebke on bass, the aforementioned Mr. Tate and Mr. Coval, and of course, Mr. Reed on drums. 


The pieces of music were meditative and internalized with no invitation for the audience to respond or interact, but simply to experience.  There were solos peppered throughout the program, most notably from Mr. Roebke, Mr. Gay and Mr. Haldeman.  When the program ended, I asked myself, “How do I feel?”  The answer I came up with is that I had been on a journey and that music has the power to bring people of all kinds together.  My guest and I then went out into the first real snowfall of the year with an appreciation and respect for art and its universal power to inform and reflect the world. 


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