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Steve Reid: Staying in the Rhythms

By Published: December 24, 2007

AAJ: Was Coltrane's house an open house? Were there loads of people coming and going? Hanging out? What was the scene like?

SR: There was that kind of atmosphere, but it wasn't like a train station or something. It was always full of people that were close to him. When he was in town, he was always there practicing, so it wasn't like people were interrupting him. He was a workaholic, a "practice-holic. He practiced all the time.

AAJ: So anytime you were around there, he had a horn in his mouth, yeah?

SR: Always. Sometimes he was sleeping with the horn on his chest—into it 24/7, John Coltrane! He was a beautiful man, generous, open, really dedicated to the music. And he helped a lot of the younger musicians.

AAJ: And what about the influence of Elvin Jones on an impressionable young drummer?

SR: Elvin impressed me, but there was another guy that was playing the same stuff Elvin was before Elvin, and his name was Edgar Bateman. We used to call him "Backman because he was a hunchback. Elvin was good for the music in that he opened it up for the drummers, as did Art Blakey, Philly Jo Jones, and guys that were really playing hard—playing the open, African drum sound.

Elvin was great. It's a shame how it ended for Elvin, you know, all those records, all that stuff, and he didn't have any money. It shouldn't be that way.

AAJ: No it shouldn't. Your latest album, Daxaar, echoes John Coltrane's 1957 album of the same name. Is the album some kind of tribute to Coltrane?

SR: No. And the spelling is the original Senegalese spelling, and it relates to when I went to Africa forty some years ago in '65 or '66.

AAJ: Can you tell us something about the making of this album?

Steve Reid

SR: Well, it was recorded in Dakar, Senegal. We went down there, and I didn't know any musicians there, and I didn't even have a studio. But everything turned out really beautiful. I got some of the best musicians in Africa to do this with me.

AAJ: Yet you ended up using one of Yousou N'Dour's long-standing sidemen, the great guitarist Jimi Mbaye. Was that just luck that he happened to be around at the time, or did you seek him out?

SR: Yeah, yeah, Jimi Mbaye, man! A heavy dude! What many people call luck, I don't believe in luck. I just leave it up to God when I go places. I just let it happen naturally. When Coltrane made Ole, Coltrane (Atlantic, 1961) he invited a whole different set of personnel than the guys that showed up. That's how he did his thing.

I was at that record date and [trumpeter] Freddie Hubbard just happened to show up, so he was the guy on the record. But it wasn't planned for Freddie to be on the record. Sometimes things just go naturally, and the thing goes better.

With Jimi Mbaye I knew somebody in New York who knew him and knew he was going to be in town. So when we got there, we took a cab ride over to his house, sat down, and talked. Everything fell into place, and we went ahead with it.

AAJ: The music is different than a lot of the other stuff you've done recently.

SR: It wasn't a thing to make an African record, it was a thing to join the African thing with the thing that I was bringing, the New York jazz-funk thing. What we got was something that turned out very beautifully.

AAJ: Absolutely! It's great! The first track on the album, "Welcome, is a beautiful solo song, sung and played by kora player Isa Kouyate. But as beautiful as the song is, it seems an odd inclusion on the record given the funk-groove vibe which follows. Why did you include that song?

SR: I wanted to put it first just to give the authentic African feeling. I know it's kind of unusual to make a record and then not play on the first track, but I wanted the vibe to be just pure, and then we enter with our thing, you know?

AAJ: Boris Netsvetaev, your keyboard player, was also your musical director. What exactly did that entail?

SR: He helped get the technical stuff right. He works it out with the musicians, gets it just right, and makes it possible for me to just come in and play. He's been with me for about five years now, so he pretty well knows my program.

AAJ: His playing is great on the album.

SR: He's one of the great musicians Europe has produced in the last few years, I believe. Everybody is talking about Joe Zawinul and Jaco Pastorius, but Boris Netsvetaev is a guy that they should play close attention to because he's a new star in my eyes.

He's a brilliant guy too. He was a child prodigy in Russia. Then they sent him to the Communist Academy, and he ran out because they wanted to put him in the army too.

AAJ: So he left the country?

SR: Yeah, he left because he didn't want to go in the army.

AAJ: Who can blame him?

SR: Exactly. So that kind of endeared him to me right away! [laughing]

AAJ: But he got off more lightly than you did.

SR: Yeah, he did. [laughing]

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