March 22, 2006

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: "The Exchange Session, Vol. 1"

Last year, Sean went to see Four Tet on their Everything Ecstatic tour. Instead of performing the lovely, gentle electronica he is known for, Kieran Hebden delved straight into an off-putting blend of electronica and free-jazz. It failed miserably; Hebden was heckled, and a good portion of the audience walked out on the set. Even Sean's patience was tested--and he's been known to tolerate even the most abrasive of music. At the time, it seemed quite inocongruous, but later that year, he was a featured performer on Spirit Walk, the latest album by legendary jazz drummer Steve Reid. That record is an instantly impressive collection of modern jazz, and Hebden surprisingly fit right in. It's no surprise, then, that the two men would decide to collaborate.

The cover boasts that these songs are "live takes with no overdubs or edits," and it's instantly obvious. The first track, "Morning Prayer," starts off slow; considering Reid's connection with Coltrane, it's also not surprising that the song sounds not unlike Coltrane's final period; though there are definite patterns to the composition, it's quite difficult to make them out. . Track two, "Soul Oscillations," finds the two men building each other up. At times, it feels as if they are allowing the other to showcase their abilities; a few minutes into the song, the percussion falls into the foreground, and Hebden's twiddling takes over. Though there's a groove, it's a rather rough groove that feels slightly off and out of sync, but maybe that's the point. It's on the third track, "Electricity and Drum Will Change Your Mind," that the true magic of this collaboration is found. Hebden's twinkling electronics and throbbing bass drone mixes quite well with Reid's joyous drum beats, and unlike the previous two tracks, here the drums and electronic combination melds into one solid, addictive groove. For the next fifteen minutes, the two men mix their talents together, and this grand finale makes the previous fifteen minutes seem less self-indulgent. At times, it would be easy to think that the first two compositions were nothing more than rehearsals for the final number.

If you're expecting this to be a breezy Four Tet-style record, you might be in for a bit of a shock. Don't be afraid of The Exchange Session, Volume One; it's a wonderfully complex record that will reward those brave enough to listen. That this record is listed as being "volume 1" certainly whets the appetite for the second volume.

Note: it simply seems wrong to attempt to post an mp3 from this record, as it is only three tracks. However, to give you a taste of the spark of this collaboration, we've included a track from the Steve Reid Ensemble collection Spirit Walk. While not quite as intense as The Exchange Sessions, Vol. 1, "Bridget" does drop a very big hint as to what would come next. Enjoy!

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