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Album Review

Sometimes it all comes down to sprawl; at others, it all comes down to the ordered chaos of crowded spaces. New York City has made a human and technological science of both: the seemingly endless numbers and diversity of its people operating in very defined, contained spaces. The fourth collaboration between vanguard jazz über drummer Steve Reid and Four Tet mastermind Kieran Hebden is entitled NYC for a reason. Over six tracks — all named for geographical locations within the city — and 42 minutes, this pair manages their most ambitious, rhythmically and texturally dense offering yet which maneuvers through a think, layered sonic soup that makes sense, even as it aurally reveals the poetry in motion of colors, dynamics, and how a lack of space can be expanded upon to reach into the world itself.

Previous offerings by the duo tried to reflect the nature of improvisation and the stretched dynamics of texture, but that is not the case here — intentionally at least. Reid, a New York native who lives in Europe, has always been a proponent of circular rhythm. In his manner of drumming, no matter how expansive the harmonic palette, or how free the improvisation, the listener can always find her way back inside. This is underscored on NYC. Beginning with "Lyman Place," Reid's drums find a forceful, seemingly monotonous beat that's heavy on low tuned tom- toms and ride cymbal. There are other elements as well, but they're added for polyrhythmic structure. Hebden adorns the drums with all manner of feedback, blips, beeps, squeals, and ambiences to open up and extend the reach of the drums. The sharp yet funky electric guitar riff whose sample provides its own rhythmic pulse on "1st & 1st" is equal parts J.B.'s and Malian groove-think Lobi Traoré. It offers a window for Reid to allow the circular rhythms to wind themselves out. It's all call-and-response with sound (oscillators, analog synths, industrial sounds) coming in from all directions and kicking the dimension of the tune — especially with some fine single-beat muted chord drone in the form of another guitar sample as a steadfast handle to glue it together. "25th Street" begins with a keyboard vamp, made up of a single chord for Reid to hang his drums on. It places the listener dead center of a seismic rhythmic orgy where hand drums get layered against the kit, and shimmering sonics hang on the fringes. This is dance music for the nuclear age, rooted in the primitive yet projecting into the sprawling unknown future. The final track begins with a sampled kora pulse. Its tones become overtones before Reid even enters and he dances all around them with a series of complex runs on his kit before opening up his attack from the inside and coming at the string sounds from underneath. His rolls become the assault, but they are transformed into a fingerpopping backdrop in this hymn of ambience. Sampled, repetitive clocks ticking in metronymic extremis add tension and sustenance. Keyboards slowly wind around the rhythmic instruments creating a new beat conscious breath of their own.

NYC is all rhythm. It makes a solid, inarguable case that rhythm is harmony, melody, dynamic, texture, and tension, all rolled into one inseparable being. NYC is a perfect sound mirror of the city itself. It's a beautifully architected series of tone poems that soothes and provokes both thought and physical movement after the initial shock wears off.

Biography

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

He usually uses the name Four Tet for his work apart from his post-rock band Fridge, but Kieran Hebden has used his proper name on occasion, mostly when working with jazz drummer Steve Reid. Hebden formed Fridge with Sam Jeffers and Adam Ilhan while still in high school. When Fridge went on temporary hiatus for Jeffers and Ilhan to attend college, Hebden spent time playing with ideas gained from hip-hop and electronica that he hadn't had time for while concentrating on the band. Eager to experiment,...
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NYC, Kieran Hebden
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