Rufus Reid’s voice is a wondrous thing. It feels like it emanates from the center of the earth. There’s nothing judgmental, cantankerous, preachy or self-important to Rufus, and despite his myriad accomplishments he’s as humble and kind as they come. But still, when you talk with Rufus, you get told.
The music that Rufus writes on this record offers no apologies. He does not dabble. When Rufus told me he wanted to write some music for trio plus string quartet, my principal concern was that we’d be looking at another “with strings” record, with the string quartet serving as a cursory sonic bedding for a couple of supremely accomplished improvisers to bounce around on. However, this is music whose structure is wedded to its intention and execution. Rufus is a capital C composer, and he digs deep here.
Reid has toured and recorded with Eddie Harris, Nancy Wilson, Harold Land and Bobby Hutcherson, Lee Konitz, the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, Dexter Gordon, J.J. Johnson, Jack DeJohnette, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, Kenny Burrell, Kenny Barron, and countless others. However, he is equally well known as an educator. His book, The Evolving Bassist, has been the industry standard for bass method since 1974. In 1981, Reid and Dr. Martin Krivin created the acclaimed Jazz Studies and Performance Program at William Paterson University, where he mentored hundreds of young musicians from around the world. But after retiring from WPU in 1999, he took an unexpected turn and started attending the weekly sessions of the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop. He spent a total of five years attending the free workshop in NYC that welcomes musicians of varied skill levels. In 1999, Reid got his first commission by winning the Charlie Parker/Manny Albam competition.
I imagine, when you’ve walked with giants like Rufus has, it’s easy to become complacent. His spot in the firmament as one of the preeminent bassists of his time has been secure for decades. Bassists are generally tasked with keeping things together, so if you’re exceptional, eventually everyone knows you hold it down. If you’re building cathedrals and you need a foundation you call someone like Rufus Reid, who can establish a bedrock for you like few have in history. But the greats know that no matter how far down you go, you can never reach bottom. So you head back to school. You listen voraciously. You search for new sounds. You learn from your students. You build your own cathedrals.
I’m not saying everyone needs to write or arrange in order to reach their artistic potential. Or even that there’s necessarily more personal expression in the composed work. There are many ways to keep cracking the veneer of your skill to display your character, and in the end we serve the music, not the other way around. So, of course, it’s not the level of craftsmanship on display here that makes this record extraordinary, nor even the audaciousness of the writing that makes this one shine. It’s that in composition and interpretation there is the coherent expression of novel and fully formed ideas. Something new and beautiful in the world.
– Elan Mehler