Long before the pandemic, Reed had been thinking about isolation, haunted by a 2015 story in The New York Times about the death of a resident named George Bell, a hoarder who passed away at home, his body undiscovered for nearly a week. In January 2022, Reed gathered a group of some of the most creative figures in Chicago’s experimental and improvised music community to put sound to those thoughts of forced seclusion: cornetist Ben LaMar Gay, poet and spoken word artist Marvin Tate, and members of Bitchin Bajas (Rob Frye, Cooper Crain, and Dan Quinlivan). Together, they called the new group and its resulting album The Separatist Party, echoing the loner persona all six musicians transmit at times. It’s the first installment of a three-album cycle involving a varied cast of musicians, dealing with themes of inner and outer human isolation.
The six musicians coalesced into an exciting new ensemble commingling a wide array of styles and influences into a groove-oriented expression of communion in the face of crippling solitude. One can glean wisps of Don Cherry’s Organic Music conception, the ecstatic fire of Pharoah Sanders, the cycling minimalism of Terry Riley, the motoric rhythms of krautrock, the exploratory tones of Sun Ra, and clipped soul of vintage Ethiopian music within The Separatist Party, but no single element arrives wholesale. Lead single and album opener “Your Soul” begins with sparse keys, skittering percussion, and the striking vocals of Tate, the longtime leader of D-Settlement. At once fully realized and completely off the cuff, “Your Soul” swells as additional instruments wander in. “More time, more mind, more wine, more, more, more,” Tate cries out, continuing, “Your soul is a moshpit.” His hectoring, biting oratory conveys an indelible sense of Chicago street culture, as his narratives quietly underline the complex, often contradictory realities of working class struggles, whether through the pernicious veil of racism or fear of connection.
Reed adds: “‘Your Soul’ was created on the spot after hearing Marvin perform an acapella version using some of the lyrical content. It gave me the idea to build a backing track derived by inverting the bass parts of two older compositions and placing them in the same key. Further, the two bass lines are phrased differently, shifting in and out of rhythmic focus. I wanted the whole record to have this familiar but out-of-focus feeling, hoping to make people be much more active listeners. People tend to lean in more when they feel something got a little weird, but they can’t quite put their finger on it.” In his own life, Reed has become a community-builder, both through making music and presenting it. Reed has led bands (including his old, disbanded quintet, Loose Assembly, and People, Places & Things), serves in the the Artifacts collective alongside Nicole Mitchell and Tomeka Reid, and he maintains long-term projects with AACM co-founders Roscoe Mitchell and Wadada Leo Smith. He’s programmed live music for over two decades, co-founding Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival, serving as chair of the Chicago Music Festival, and owning and operating vital live music venues Constellation and The Hungry Brain. He views bandleading as a creative act, as the unexpected synchronicity of The Separatist Party’s disparate members can attest.