These two wide-ranging musicians met less than two years ago, but they seem to have already forged a strong working relationship. Steve Reid, whose drumming pedigree goes all the way back to high school practice sessions at John Coltrane's house, has worked with a dizzying variety of prominent musicians from Miles Davis to Fela Kuti and James Brownand, yes, the Rippingtons. His discography runs well into the hundreds. Electronics specialist Kieran Hebden, a comparative youngster in his mid-20s, is best known for his Four Tet project (four full-length releases).
The two played together on Reid's excellent Spirit Walk (Soul Jazz, 2005), but their first "completely unscripted" duo performance took place in Paris last March. Four days later, they stepped into London's Exchange studio to document the collaboration, resulting in this album and a second volume to be released later this year.
It's completely impossible (and actually quite contrary to the spirit of the music) to try to categorize these improvisations, which were all performed live in the studio. Hebden and Reid inhabit dark zones of human consciousness with purposefully dim boundaries, passing through moments of Eastern meditation, uneasy seasickness, stuttering grooves, stabbing ecstasy and deliberately self-conscious abstraction. To the extent this is an "epitome of African-American rhythmic drum tradition" (Hebden's words), or whether "in the future this is going to be considered really important" (Reid's words), it is most unusual.
The first piece, the shortest at under seven minutes, has the most coherent message; the other two, around fifteen minutes each, tend to shift gears more freely. It's interesting to try to pick Reid's colorful percussion apart from Hebden's atmospheric noises, bleeps, drones, and other more synthetic-sounding elements, especially given the constant evolving permutation that takes place over time. It does have its own substantial inner logic, which is never obvious and takes a few listens to properly appreciate.
Personnel: Steve Reid: drums, percussion; Kieran Hebden: electronics.