Not too many musicians have sessioned with Miles, Marvin, Jimi, and James. Even fewer can say they’ve both toured Africa, playing with the indomitable Fela Kuti, and pushed boundaries with Albert Ayler, Ornette, and Sun Ra. Yet drummer and percussionist extraordinaire Steve Reid has done all this, and remains on top of his game five decades into his music career. After Soul Jazz Records re-released Reid’s stellar 1975 album Rhythmatism in 2003, he’s enjoyed a re-emergence in the spotlight, most recently pairing with his newest partner in sound, Kieren Hebden (a.k.a. “Four Tet”). Though laptop-wiz Hebden is about half Reid’s age, the two have collaborated on four fresh and vibrant recent albums. In early 2007, they traveled to West Africa to record Daxaar. The duo spontaneously jammed with Senegalese musicians, recording five tracks spanning 40 minutes that move away from the percussion and electronic improv of The Exchange Sessions and towards a fuller sound. While the scene is set by Isa Kouyate, with the simple and potent solo “Welcome”, the album’s allegiance to non-electric, “traditional” African music ends here. The title track—“Daxaar” being the earliest spelling of “Dakar”—is nine minutes of sinewy, circular organ swirls, punctuated by Hebden’s sound accents and held down by Reid’s solidly funky, fill-laden, foundation. “Jiggy Jiggy” might be mistaken for a mildly-interesting, mid-tempo lounge-jazz-jam were it not for Hebden’s sonic excursions and a closer listen to Reid’s dexterity. The closing “Don’t Look Back” is an Africanized excursion into the seemingly disparate worlds of Fela Kuti and the Grateful Dead. Though the Steve Reid Ensemble has taken a geographic and sonic trip to make Daxaar, the primary thrust—as it has been throughout Reid’s career—is a dynamic, unrelenting focus on rhythm.
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