"This whole project for us, myself, Boris (Netsvetaev), and Kieran (Hebden), was a UNITY thing," says truly legendary -- and largely underground jazz drummer Steve Reid by phone from Switzerland. "Yeah, there's a ton of factionalism going on out there: in politics, religion, and in corporate aesthetic culture. But that's just what we hear about, where the noise is coming from on TV and in newspapers. Underneath it, there are people from all sorts of different cultures, disciplines, and musical genres intersecting and collaborating more than ever before. This is what's really going on, and people are cutting out the middle man -- the major labels and the official controllers of culture -- and simply going to one another, using the internet and other means -- like word of mouth -- to let people know what's up and that they're open. Very few of the great musicians out there ever got to record on the majors; most were on independents or made their living playing out on the road.
"It's better now in many ways -- only the business end has gotten worse, and therefore people who don't have the kind of access need to know where to go to find what they need. They have to work harder, but the abundance is there to discover. I mean, it's been a central part of the jazz thing forever; it never used to be so separate. The first time I saw Art Blakey and wanted to play drums, he was playing a dance hall in my neighborhood, and it was a dance party with a calypso band with steel drums on the same bill! That's what's coming on now, back to the essentials kind of thing, not discriminating from one music to another, but seeing what's on offer and bringing it into something else. The corporate thing isn't gonna go for that because they've never understood -- in the past they were at least willing to take a chance, though -- so people have to do it anyway, regardless; it's happening for the right reasons -- to bring people into a place to talk together and focus on what's similar rather than what's different. Records are happening now, little CDs and MP3s popping out of everywhere."
Reid knows of what he speaks. In the mid-'70s, he founded his own Mustevic Sound label and issued his own albums. His records were distributed in the U.S. via the New Music Distribution Service; it was a clearing-house for self-released, private- and independently-released recordings from artists as diverse as Meredith Monk and Robert Ashley, from Ned Sublette to Reid. Reid's albums were also distributed widely in Europe through similar channels. On vinyl they fetch plenty of money on the auction market. Nova and Rhythmnatism were re-released on CD by Great Britain's Soul Jazz/Universal Sound imprint, as was Steve Reid Ensemble's Spirit Walk.
"I never went anywhere; I was always working, just under the radar. Gilles Peterson and a bunch of other British and European DJs were playing stuff off Nova and Rhythmnatism, because of my approach to rhythm; it is all circular, it all comes back to the beat, so people can get inside it. We took it too far, maybe, in the '70s, the whole free vanguard thing, and pushed the people, the listeners, out of it. All of my records are about bringing the listener back in. The younger people all picked up on that; they picked up on a lot of things that were dismissed by the arbiters of culture back in the '70s. They get soul jazz, and funky jazz; they get fusion, but they also get Coltrane and Blakey.
"I've played with everyone: from Martha Reeves () and James Brown
() to Dee Dee Bridgewater and Miles Davis (). That's not a boast; it's simply a part of my resume -- I've also played Broadway and off-Broadway with Martha Raye; with David Murray, Chief Bey, Fats Domino, Jackie McLean, Dexter Gordon, and Olatunji. I've jammed with Fela and played with Randy Weston. All of those people knew the value of rhythm. The central place it has in our lives. If the critics have trouble with Daxaar, it's going to be because we set out to make a record that would allow for a single groove, to drift it in and out, and we cut the whole thing -- from rehearsal to finished tracks in four days, almost all first-take performances. The central idea is the one of rhythm because it's how the human heart beats."
Reid's biography is astonishing; it reads like a who's who of 20th century music. His bio is here. We'll be back with part three later this week, and we leave you with samples from from Daxaar (out Feb. 5 on Domino): one from the title track () and "Big G's Family" ().