Tomeka Reid Quartet stuns at the Philadelphia Art Alliance - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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Tomeka Reid Quartet | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

It was one of those hear-a-pindrop nights at Ars Nova Workshop’s first show of 2016, when boundary-pushing cellist Tomeka Reid and her quartet set up shop in the upstairs space of Rittenhouse Square’s Philadelphia Art Alliance on January 7th.

Praised in a New York Times featurelate in 2015, the Chicago-based Reid is classically trained but with a strong progressive twist. Firstly in that she puts cello-playing in a jazz context; it’s a setting where you’re more used to hearing the next solo to come from a keyboard or a brass instrument or guitar, so there’s a certain thrill to seeing her lean in and attack her cello with a vicious elegance.

Then there’s her manner of playing: explosive and expressive, plucking it like an upright bass and then bowing legato passages you’d expect from a chamber orchestra, tapping and shredding like a heavy metal guitarist and then stepping back and making judicious use of space. The pieces she performed with guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Tomas Fujiwara were dynamic and unpredictable, and the audience was transfixed.

Standouts include a rendition of Eric Dolphy’s “17 West,” which can be found on the Quartet’s eponymous LP released last fall on Thirsty Ear (listen here) – “that piece made a big impression on me when I was an undergrad,” Reid said – and the misty insomniac groove of “Woodlawn,” which she explained was an ode of sorts to her neighborhood in Chicago.

Tomeka Reid Quartet | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Tomeka Reid Quartet | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Tomeka Reid Quartet | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Tomeka Reid Quartet | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Tomeka Reid Quartet | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Tomeka Reid Quartet | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Tomeka Reid Quartet | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Tomeka Reid Quartet | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

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