Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid
The Exchange Session: Vol.2
didn’t believe that this collaboration would work when I first heard about it. I expected to hear Kieran Hebden (Four Tet)’s audio files clash with veteran funk/jazz drummer Steve Reid during their improvisations. I dreaded the thought of hearing these fellows spend more time trying to figure out what to play next, instead of locking into a groove. I’ve seen enough jam sessions where lost artists spat random microtones and breakbeats out of their G4s, struggling to keep up with the haphazard drummers who don’t follow a digital “click track.” However, I was optimistic that Hebden and Reid would naturally embrace groove together before listening to their Exchange Session’s first volume as well. In Four Tet, Hebden weaves a vivid tapestry of sound, using little more than loops of a few folkie guitar and orchestral melodies stitched over steady hip-hop beats. Reid made his name with groove, first in Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets,” and later in Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat, and with his own solo work.
Most of the first volume’s tracks seemingly ended right before Hebden and Reid found their footing and progressed into something brilliant, though. The closer, “Electricity and Drum Will Change Your Mind,” was the exception: Hebden made the morning sun rise after midnight with samples of resonating bells that wove into Reid’s quiet rumblings.
The Exchange Session’s second volume retreads the same path that Hebden and Reid took earlier, but they truly go places this time around. It’s heard midway through the intoxicating finale, “We Dream Free,” where they come down from a violent skirmish and then drift through outer space. On the 20-minute opener, “Hold Down the Rhythms, Hold Down the Machines,” Hebden fires a laser gun in every direction while Reid deflects the shots. “Noémie” is stronger, beginning with samples of an ominous Renaissance fife melody. Then, live chimes and sampled thumb piano plucking cloak everything in a thick, soot-ashen fog before the two players blast into the sky, incinerating everything below them. The aforementioned “We Dream Free” sees Hebden and Reid drifting through the heavens, discarding old constellation maps as new stars appear. Reid softly strolls on one cymbal, while Hebden plays a haunting, gamelan-like chime that gets seared by splintered electro-tones on his laptop.
Hebden and Reid did not entirely defy my early prejudice before I heard their second session. There are times when their music walks in circles until they overcome their creative blocks. It’s a common misfire in improv sessions, but it can result in great tension as the musicians force the audience to sit on the edge of their seats. On The Exchange Session, Vol. 2 Hebden and Reid still connect the right points in their music without ever clashing, and move closer to spiritual ecstasy with each step they take.
Reviewed by: Cameron Macdonald
Reviewed on: 2006-06-01