Co-led by Mike Reed and Jason Adasiewicz, two of the fastest-rising young stars of Chicago's insanely vibrant jazz scene, Living by Lanterns was formed specifically to bring together Chicago's and New York's leading players including Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson and Tomas Fujiwara.
Over the past decade, co-leader Mike Reed has built a democratic musical empire as a player, bandleader, director of the Pitchfork Music Festival, and founder of the Emerging Improvisers Organization, a nonprofit group that sponsors weekly jazz and improvised music performances. Born in Biclefeld, Germany, in 1974, he grew up in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Ill. He’s the rhythmic catalyst in a number of the city’s most arresting ensembles, which over the years has included the David Boykin Expanse, Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra, My Silence, Suns Rooms, and duos with Jeff Parker and Mars Williams. Reed has also shared the stage with many of his AACM mentors such as Roscoe Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith, Nicole Mitchell and the late Fred Anderson. As a bandleader, he’s best known for Mike Reed's People, Places & Things, a capaciously inventive group devoted to unearthing and reinterpreting Chicago’s forgotten hard bop anthems.
Jason Adasiewicz (pronounced ah-da-SHEV-itz) maintains an equally kaleidoscopic range of activities as a bandleader and a sideman. Like Reed, he’s come to embody the progressive edge of Chicago’s vaunted improv scene, flourishing in a wide array of contexts. He coaxes a distinctively bright, percussive sound out of the vibes with his spacious but kinetic four-mallet approach. “I'm interested in hitting the instrument as hard as I can to create these overtones that you're not supposed to create,” Adasiewicz told the Chicago Tribune. One of his signature ensembles is Rolldown, a group that explores the techniques and concepts introduced by the more rigorous denizens of the New Thing movement of the 1960s, like Andrew Hill and Eric Dolphy. The Chicago quintet released the acclaimed album Varmint on Cuneiform in 2009. In addition to Loose Assembly, Adasiewicz and Reed also collaborate in the vibraphonist’s minimalist free bop trio Sun Rooms, which he introduced on 2010’s Sun Rooms (Delmark). He also plays with cornetist Josh Berman and His Gang, Rob Mazurek's Starlicker, Peter Brotzmann:Adasiewicz Duo, and James Falzone’s Klang.
In much the same way that the careers of Adasiewicz, Reed and the other Chicagoans repeatedly intersect, Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson and Tomas Fujiwara have been deeply implicated in each other’s creative lives from the beginning. All three hale from the Boston area. Bynum and Fujiwara are childhood friends who grew up playing together, and Halvorson connected with the drummer and cornetist after college. They have all played together in numerous contexts and settings, including extensive collaborations under the leadership of composer and wind explorer Anthony Braxton.
Bynum, a leading force in the contemporary avant-garde jazz scene, is at the center of a vast network of artists as the leader of a celebrated sextet (with Halvorson and Fujiwara) and the chamber ensemble SpiderMonkey Strings. With percussionist/vocalist Abraham Gomez-Delgado he co-leads the avant Afro-Caribbean little big band Positive Catastrophe, which has released two amazing albums on Cuneiform, most recently Dibrujo, Dibrujo, Dibrujo... in May 2012. He is an essential member of several collective ensembles, including the Tomas Fujiwara/Taylor Ho Bynum Duo, the Thirteenth Assembly with Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone, and the Convergence Quartet. He has become an invaluable catalyst for several avant-garde patriarchs, most importantly trumpeter Bill Dixon and Anthony Braxton, organizing several large-scale projects for the AACM pioneer and serving as president of Braxton’s Tri-Centric Foundation.
Halvorson is recognized as one of the most important and galvanizing new voices on guitar to emerge in the past decade, a doggedly idiosyncratic artist who “can define the character of an entire band’s tonal makeup without having to scream for attention,” says S. Victor Aaron. She leads a combustible trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith, and often collaborates with violist Jessica Pavone in a tough, sonically expansive duo.
Until recently, Fujiwara’s vaunted reputation as a responsive and often unpredictable trap expert has rested upon his brilliant work with Bynum (including powering Positive Catastrophe), Halvorson, Matana Roberts, Red Baraat, and baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton’s Ideal Bread, a quartet devoted to the music of Steve Lacy. But he’s increasingly gaining attention as an inspired bandleader with The Hook Up, a powerhouse quintet that released a bracing 2012 session on 482 Music, The Air Is Different with Mary Halvorson.
For Mike Reed, there’s something inherently amusing about assembling such a talent-laden crew to explore music. The intergalactic traveler illuminated a vast swath of space during his life, bringing form to realms where others only saw chaos. But Living By Lanterns isn’t about illuminating past accomplishments.
“We are bringing all these people together to make their mark,” Reed says. “That was the premise. With so many leaders in the group and rising stars and collaborators, everybody is trying to make their way through this life. We’re working in the shadows and you have to put a light on.”
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