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Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 2

Chris May By

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Imagine John Coltrane's Africa/Brass during its most intense and primal passages, and you're getting some idea of what The Exchange Session Vol.2 sounds like—but with a truckload of electronic juju replacing the horns. This is spontaneously created electro-acoustic music at its rawest, most beat-centric and most pile-driving.

Steve Reid has been a presence on the experimental, world music and otherwise alternative edges of the jazz life for over forty years. Coltrane was one of the few legends he never actually played out with (though in the early 1960s the saxophonist briefly lived in Reid's neighbourhood and gave some informal tuition to the young drummer). After playing on Martha Reeves & The Vandellas' "Dancing In The Street" in 1964, aged nineteen, Reid went on to work with Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, Randy Weston, James Brown, Sun Ra, Dexter Gordon, Fats Domino, Peggy Lee and many more singular artists. The Steve Reid Ensemble's Spirit Walk (Soul Jazz, 2005), a mutant, cross-bred monster, but closer to the mainstream than The Exchange Session, was one of last autumn's most enjoyable albums.

Kieran Hebden is a couple of generations younger than Reid, and already highly regarded for his electronica project Four Tet. Along with bass saxophonist Tony Bevan, he was a key contributor to Spirit Walk.

Reid's frequently stated conviction is that music, and in particular healing music, is above all about rhythm. That's what drives The Exchange Session, where Hebden also frequently works rhythmically—though he provides fragments of melody or pitched texture, be it apocalyptic (as on "Hold Down The Rhythms, Hold Down The Machines") or lysergic (as on the at least initially prettier "Noemie"), fairly consistently throughout the album.

Almost from its opening bars, the mood on "Hold Down The Rhythms, Hold Down The Machines" is intense going on blistering. "Noemie" kicks off in a gentler mode, with Reid creating gamelan-like effects on bells and wood blocks, before the density and urgency gathers up once more and the tune ends in a frenzy of crashing cymbals and bass effects. "We Dream Free" follows a similar trajectory. (Have you noticed how these trajectories invariably go from gentle to crashing, rather than the other way round? Why is that?)

Recorded live—wholly improvised, unedited and without overdubs—on the same day in London's Exchange studios as the recently released The Exchange Session Vol.1, this is a tough and healing (as in cathartic) album.


Track Listing: Hold Down The Rhythms, Hold Down The Machines; Noemie; We Dream Free.

Personnel: Steve Reid: drums and percussion; Kieran Hebden: electronics.

Title: The Exchange Session Vol. 2 | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Domino Records (US)


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