There is a natural symmetry in the pairing of sampler/electronics improviser Kieran Hebden and drumming troubadour Steve Reid. Reid's credits run from Fela Kuti to Sun Ra, James Brown to Miles Davis, and Archie Shepp to Arthur Blythe. Hebden, a fan of avant-garde and free jazz (particularly Pharoah Sanders), has remixed tracks by artists as diverse as Badly Drawn Boy, Black Sabbath and Steve Reich. It is safe to say that both musicians share a certain sense of adventure, and the open-minded and patient listener will be amply rewarded by Tongues, their third collaboration.
The ten concise and intense tracks on this recording are undeniably adventurous in both spirit and execution; these improvisations were recorded without a safety net, as there are no edits or overdubs. The language in which Hebden and Reid converse seems somehow alien at first, with its abstractions, strange sounds and unfamiliar punctuation. It is, however, arresting, and held together by Reid's wonderful rhythms. The music runs from the melodious "The Sun Never Sets, which brings to mind the Penguin Café Orchestra, to the dark and edgy "The Squid from toe-tapping to toe-curling.
Hebden's industrial sounds and electronic textures complement and propel Reid's energized drumming and colorful percussion. On "Brain, Reid's crisp and dynamic stick work is almost drowned out by what sounds like a hoover gone mad. This is an intense dialogue indeed.
The stripped-down electronics on "Our Time allow the percussion to take up the discourse. A swirling harp and a mantra-like keyboard riff are reminiscent of the atmosphere of Joe Zawinul's "In a Silent Way, and Reid's temple bells, chattering chimes and cymbals lend much to the charm of this tune. But just in case you thought the album was mellowing out, the relentless cymbals, beeps, clanks and springs that characterize "People Be Happy sound like they might have escaped from Tom Waits' workshop.
"Music, affirms Steve Reid, "is like a big house and when you put another view in it, it has another window. So you got all these windows. It could be a Coltrane window; it could be a Hendrix window, it could be African, Indian. So we're gonna make another couple of windows in the house. Together, Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden have constructed a very personal musical space. They inhabit a musical environment which, if you look through the "windows, reveals an original and adventurous approach that's utterly beyond facile categorization.
Visit Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid on the web.
Personnel: Kieran Hebden: samples, electronics, guitar; Steve Reid: drums, percussion.