Kieran Hebden / Steve Reid

The Exchange Session, Vol. 2

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The second volume in the Exchange Sessions between jazz drummer Steve Reid and electronic whiz Kieran Hebden is even more abstract than the first. Like its predecessor, it contains three cuts; all of them over 15 minutes in length. Given that there were no overdubs or edits of any kind, the pressure put on the players is fairly hefty. The level of abstraction here is very high. Even so, Reid is a centered drummer. He believes in and plays rhythms that are circular as a way of bringing a listener inside a track no matter how strange or dislocated it may seem initially. That is certainly the case on "Hold Down the Rhythms, Hold Down the Machines." At 20 minutes, it is the longest piece here, and the most cohesive. Reid's drumming keeps a constant pulse, amended by cymbals that gradually enter. Hebden begins to employ all manner of electronic bleeps, screes, washes, and machine sounds. Reid keeps it tethered, where backmasked electronic sounds enter cyclically and add to the base. Hebden then begins playing a moody series of ambient keyboard sounds that tonally match the tom toms. The piece picks up in intensity and detail with all manner of hell breaking loose while it stays -- for the most part -- centered. This is true of all three titles here, "Noémie" is introduced by long ambiences and slippery cymbal work before it gathers steam and ends up in an entirely different sonic landscape. "We Dream Free," the most accessible of the three is trancelike -- and we are talking primitive, tribal -- not house style. Reid's a percussion shaman and he creates dynamic spaces inside his work that make Hebden stretch both frame and idea. The work would not have been out of place on a more skeletal version of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. It may be true that for many, these two discs are too much of a good thing; for the rest who have been drawn in by Vol. 1 or Reid's Spirit Walk disc on Soul Jazz, they are compelling, curious, and satisfying.

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