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Steve Reid Ensemble: Spirit Walk

Chris May By

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An uber-visceral, trance-centric celebration of Great Black Music ancient-to-modern—mixing up free improv, Afrobeat, the astral jazz of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane, North African Sufi music, early '70s electric Miles, chicken shack B3 grooves, Gil Scott Heron and the Last Poets, and more, all of it laced with real time electronica—Spirit Walk is serious mindbending business, as in free your ass and your mind will follow.

Led by the Bronx-born, currently Swiss-based, itinerant US drummer Steve Reid and recorded in London this summer, the album features an international crew of musical cosmonaughts, both established and unsung, including some new and on the face of it highly promising young European talent.

Despite a forty year career at jazz and African music's cutting edges—or perhaps, because of it—Reid's ever restless, always searching, on-the-margins musical and lifestyle odyssey has been largely overlooked in the standard jazz histories. At seventeen he played the drums on Martha & The Vandella's iconic Motown hit "Heatwave." He hung with Coltrane in New York, and then spent three years travelling in Africa, playing first with Fela Kuti in Nigeria and later with Guy Warren in Ghana and Randy Weston in Morocco. Returning to the US at the height of the Vietnam war in '68, he joined Sun Ra's Science Myth Solar Arkestra before serving two years in jail for draft evasion. He's played with Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Sam Rivers, Charles Tyler, Lester Bowie, Miles, Arthur Blythe, and a host more A-listers.

Reid's key collaborators on this album are 23 year-old Russian keyboard player Boris Netsvetaev and 4tet electronicist Kieran Hebden. Netsvetaev plays B3, Wurlitzer, Moog, and electric piano, also acting as arranger and MD. Hebden's arresting and musicianly off-planet sonic inventions give an of-the-moment edge to what is essentially timeless music, providing roots and references simultaneously in the future and the past. Soprano saxophonist Chuck Henderson and bass saxophonist Tony Bevan lead a wilfully ragged, hard-hitting reed section. Bevan as always is astonishing: a fluent master of the highest, false-fingered harmonics and the down there, lowest bass frequencies of his unwieldy instrument. Reid and bassist John Edwards lock everything down tight with deep, deep ostinatos.

Most of the tracks are extended, bass register-heavy, seven or eight-minute jams around simple riffs, more concerned with vibe and rhythmic intensity than with harmony and melody. The exceptions are "Blind Tom," inspired by and blending together references to Moroccan gnawa music and Tibetan temple chanting (yes, really), and "Drum Story," a fifteen minute drum and percussion workout over which Reid recites an Afro-American musical and social history. He's the man, and he's got a mutant mutha for you.


Track Listing: Lugano; Drum Story; Bridget; For Coltrane; Blind Tom; Which One?; Lions Of Juda; It Cannot Be True; Unity.

Personnel: Steve Reid: drums, voice; Kieran Hebden: electronics; Boris Netsvetaev: keyboards; John Edwards: bass; Chuck Henderson: soprano saxophone; Neil Kleiner: tenor saxophone, percussion; Nathaniel Catchpole: tenor saxophone; Tony Bevan: bass saxophone.

Title: Spirit Walk | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Soul Jazz Records

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