Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 1

Electricity and drum will change your mind? You better believe it.

Free improvisation and the electronic production of sound aren't as odd a couple as some might have you believe. Though the concept of creating music in the moment of performance without pre-determined structure has deeper roots in the jazz tradition, there's currently more than enough history of music freely improvised by folks with sequencers, effects pedals, and mixing boards to rival the output of cats with saxophones, trumpets, and pianos. Even so, rarely the twain shall meet: bulletin boards and websites continue to hotly debate the merits of one approach at the other's expense, with only a select few embracing and understanding the role each has played in the overall continuum of freely improvised music.

Such complications make what Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid have achieved on The Exchange Session Vol. 1 that much more intriguing, if not downright brilliant. It came as curiosity-arousing news for fans of his work as Four Tet that Hebden would be contributing his electronics to Reid's ensemble on 2005's Soul Jazz release, Spirit Walk, but also caused plenty of speculation as to how his sound would integrate into an otherwise standard jazz lineup. The results were somewhat inconsistent, making it difficult to know what to expect from a proper duo session -- surely not more of the noisy beatnik ramblings offered on that disc's lone performance by Hebden and Reid without the ensemble's accompaniment?

On these three lengthy pieces, the two musicians very much meet at a stylistic middle ground, but no amount of imagination could prepare a listener for how well it actually works. Hebden sounds as if he relishes the freedom he's afforded by someone else taking sole responsibility for the rhythmic aspects of the music, expertly implying an orchestra's worth of instrumental tones over the course of the disc. As for Reid, the closest comparison to his drumming style is his contemporary Rashied Ali, whose pulsating, expansive approach to timekeeping propelled John Coltrane's later groups to glorious heights. Reid has employed a similar methodology in his work over the years as both a bandleader and in collaborations with Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, and Sun Ra (talk about a trifecta of former associates) -- and what he offers up here is no exception.

The three tracks move from shortest to longest, as if the duo found it had more to say each time the tapes began to roll, no edits or overdubs required. On "Morning Prayer", Hebden approximates a chorus of flutes and double-reeds, slowly adding layers of drones and electronic noise in a gradual shift from organic to alien, while Reid keeps it all afloat on a wash of spiritual jazz percussion. "Soul Oscillations" extends the vaguely Eastern tonalities, with Reid mixing a hypnotic drum pattern with African thumb piano while Hebden loops a harmonium-tinged line around it -- and the results are as capable of inducing a trance as a cyborg Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Finally, the shimmering vibraphone loops that commence "Electricity and Drum Will Change Your Mind" gradually lose form, as Hebden chops them up to allow room for static and distant muezzin-like saxophone samples to slip through; over its more than 15-minute duration, the music gains and discharges momentum until finally evaporating into the ether with spectral echoes of electronic tones and authentic cymbals and bells.

There's a serenity at work in much of this music that also exists in the best of what has come to be known as electro-acoustic improvisation, but Hebden and Reid offer a bit more traditional melody and rhythm than one will find in the music of, say, Keith Rowe or Toshimaru Nakamura; here, electronic "noise", like a good expletive, is used for emphasis instead of a modus operandi. Which returns the focus to just what a remarkable feat The Exchange Session Vol. 1 is -- in just under 40 minutes, Hebden and Reid offer one of the most thrilling documents of real-time improvisation you're likely to hear this year, regardless of instrumentation or imposed micro-genre. So while it's arguable that electricity and drum has been changing minds since the advent of rock and roll, this unlikely duo proves that it doesn't need the attendant electric guitars and posturing to get the job done.







'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.


Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.


Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.


The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.


Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.


In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.


Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.