Shape Shifter is a most felicitous title for this live CD. The Scott Reeves Quintet displaces expectations, interrupts calm toe-tapping, and even quibbles with the listeners’ emotions through nine of Reeves’ original compositions.
The title cut throws a 6/8 feel at the listener, its off-beat accents sending usual rhythmic anticipation flying. And that’s before the solos. Tenor saxist Rich Perry (late of Maria Schneider’s glorious ensemble) Tranes us to sit up and listen, then leader Reeves shakes up flugelhorn fans as his solo wanders into lower tonal territory than they’re used to hearing (thanks to his alto flugelhorn, which with his alto valve trombone, keeps listeners guessing.) Andy Watson’s percussive engine steers through several of the piece’s rhythmic theme before pianist Jim Ridl (with ample support from killer bassist Mike McGuirk) twists and turns through a short history of avant-garde style pianists: First Herbie Nichols, to Don Pullen by way of Andrew Hill, and on up to a little Cecil Taylor. This is all backed by a push-me-pull-you theme from the horns, a quick cymbal solo and a dying quail horn line that closes out the cut almost, but not quite, too quickly.
"The Alchemist", a tribute to Miles Davis that again features Ridl’s piano, and "Without A Trace", a pretty ballad where Reeves pulls out his trombone, both end with fadeouts. Strange for a live album.
"The Soulful Mr. Williams" comes with a dedication to the late pianist James Williams and straight-ahead soloing from Reeves and Ridl. The remaining cuts remind one of the late and lamented George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet, with a brass instrument, of course. Soloing is adventurous, as are Reeves’ compositions.
Shape Shifter is not an easy listen, but it absolutely rewards the attentive ear. Jazz is in need of more exploratory and thrilling works like the Scott Reeves Quintet’s latest.