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Album Review

Live at the South Bank marks the final of six collaborations between jazz drumming legend Steve Reid and electronic composer and musician Keiran Hebden (Four Tet). The pair began on Reid's excellent 2005 ensemble offering Spirit Walk, and continued through four more duet records — two volumes of The Exchange Session in 2006, Tongues in 2007, and, finally, NYC in 2008. Interestingly, the ideas were endless and Reid and Hebden were able to complement one another and play as a unit throughout their association. For this final entry issued on the venerable Smalltown Superjazzz imprint, the duo expanded to a trio by adding Swedish saxophone powerhouse Mats Gustafsson. Reid was already terminally ill; he died less than a year later, though you'd never know it by his playing. Six long tracks are divided over two discs. The selections are mostly interpretations from Reid's and Hebden's catalog, though there is a brilliant untitled improvisation that kicks off disc two. Things begin in duet with "Morning Prayer." Reid's circular rhythmic approach is expanded upon and complemented by Hebden's electronics, which include rhythm loops, atmospheric synth progressions, and noise expressed as counterpoint. It is a beautifully unified work. Gustafsson enters the picture on "Lyman Place." After a drum and thumb piano intro (the latter via Hebden's samples) and wobbling electronic noise, the tenorist begins on Reid's downbeat, wafting in from the margins, playing outside squalls and arpeggios, droning honks, screams, fingering, and tongue tricks in the backdrop, never emerging enough to claim the mix.

He's more front and center on "People Be Happy," when he uses his tenor to simultaneously impersonate a didgeridoo drone and an Albert Ayler gospel wail. Reid's tom-toms rumble underneath and this time it's Hebden coming in from the shadows, highlighting both his partners with breathtaking screes, skronks, and outer space pulses. But rather than go farther out into the ether, the tune moves in with Gustafsson copping a two note mantra-like vamp and holding it as the other two players shimmer and shift around it to a whisper. Disc two follows suit, with "25th Street" becoming its own urban song through the melodic improvisation between Hebden and Gustafsson. Reid makes it all trancelike, creating space with his constant circling and expansion. Closer "The Sun Never Sets" is Hebden initially, setting off a chord pattern that Reid underscores in 4/4 before it winds its way out into the stratosphere when Gustafsson joins in, playing the entire history of jazz saxophone in his soloing. He honks a single note as the group finds its way to an extended glistening conclusion. It's a breathtaking end point. Given that this is likely the final entry in Reid's catalog, it is a very fitting one: it showcases his astonishing skills as soloist and ensemble player; it also delightfully illustrates deeper and wider aspects in both Hebden's and Gustafsson's musical personas. Live at the South Bank is an artfully and spiritually satisfying coda to a long and criminally underappreciated career that began with his unmistakable drumming on Martha & the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Streets" and took turns through Sun Ra, Fats Domino, Dionne Warwick, Dexter Gordon, Sam Rivers, Horace Silver, and many, many more.


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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Live At the South Bank, Kieran Hebden
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