Drum rhythm master Steve Reid died this past week at the age of 66 after a struggle with cancer. Ironically, Reid’s profile, which in his native America had all but disappeared after he left the States to live in Switzerland in the 1980s, had begun to thrive throughout Europe and in Asia. Reid had worked regularly in various types of bands in Europe, but had been inactive as a recording artist. That is until two of his records issued on his own tiny Mustevic imprint caught the attention of Gilles Peterson and other European DJs, who began spinning them in clubs and on the radio. They were eventually reissued by the U.K.’s Soul Jazz imprint.
Fourtet’s Kieran Hebden was also deeply moved by these recordings and tracked him down in Switzerland. Hebden became a member of Reid’s Swiss band comprised of much younger players that released 2005's Spirit Walk (Soul Jazz) and later, the brilliant Daxaar (Domino) in 2009. The pair also collaborated on a critically acclaimed series of duet recordings. Another of his 1970s recordings from Mustevic, Odyssey Of The Oblong Square was reissued on Soul Jazz in 2009. Reid had fairly recently returned to his native New York and had more plans to both record and tour until he became ill.
While Reid is still not a household name, some of the records he played and the artists accompanied with are. Reid was a 16-year–old house drummer at the Apollo under Quincy Jones direction when Martha Reeves heard him. She quickly arranged a session for him with her backing band. The end result: “Dancing In the Street.” Another legendary recording featuring his ride-heavy funk is on James Brown’s “Popcorn.” Reid did everything. played off- Broadway, backed comedian Martha Raye, played gigs with Miles Davis, moved to Africa and worked with Fela; he also played with Sun Ra and jammed with Ornette Coleman, Jimi Hendrix, David Murray, Dee Dee Bridgewater , Chief Bey, Fats Domino, Jackie McLean, Dexter Gordon, and Olatunji.
When I interviewed him upon the release of Daxaar (whose title reflects Reid’s theme: “where the Bronx meets Dakar”), a recording he returned to Africa to make in four days with his own ensemble and musicians from Senegal, he told me that the reason it was easy for him to play with so many different types of musicians was that, “all of those people knew the value of rhythm. The central place it has in our lives.”
When pressed to explain his own concept of circular rhythm and why it played a role on virtually every song he ever played on he elaborated: “Because it is all circular, it all comes back to the beat, so people can get inside it. Jazz musicians 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.”
Reid influence is felt by younger jazz musicians worldwide including those who play in bands like the Zanussi Five, Core, the Alberto Pinton Quintet, Astro Can Caravan, the Five Corners Quintet, Dalindeo, Build An Ark, and even veteran Francisco Mora. His death leaves a void, but his influence is immeasurable.
Documentary for Steve Reid's Daxaar in Africa
Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden - "Brain"