Kieran Hebden / Steve Reid / Mats Gustafsson Live at the South Bank Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A welcome addition to what eventually became Reid’s late-period re-emergence.

Martin Longley 2011

It’s unclear whether this live recording was always destined for a release, or whether it’s been issued as a previously unplanned posthumous tribute to the recently departed New York drummer Steve Reid. Whichever way, this two-CD set is now a welcome addition to what eventually became Reid’s late-period re-emergence following decades of hip multi-genre collaborations amid a veil of semi-obscurity.

The five-year teaming of Reid and Kieren (Four Tet) Hebden culminated with this 2009 performance in the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. They were joined by the Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, whom Hebden credits with providing the inspirational seed that led to him seek out Reid in the first place. He’s a highly appropriate addition to their musical mission. This trio converged from different countries, generations and stylistic zones, uniting in an electro-jazz pulse-improvisation. All three brought elements of their accustomed expression along, but the final result is a composite creation that’s ultimately unfamiliar to all of them.

Each of the two discs features three extended pieces, mostly bleeding from one into the next. A Krautrock-like repeating flow gathers its forces, somewhat reminiscent of Klaus Schulze’s latter-day sound. Reid swiftly sets up a splashing density, with a beating undertow. Rhythm speeds shift, as robotic meets organic within Hebden’s palette. Reid’s drum sound has an epic echo, whilst Hebden is intimately in-the-ear.

Gustafsson eventually hefts his saxophone, although he might already have been adding his own electro-ploppings, as his armoury has increasingly expanded with effects units. It doesn’t take him long to rip out those characteristic animal-in-agony howls. Meanwhile, Hebden’s jet is taking off, into a Hawkwind/Konono fusion-riff. Gustafsson continues to discover his inner beast. The trio are adept at maintaining their building-and-building motion, sustaining a climax over the distance.

The second disc continues the energy pile-up, as Hebden unleashes a funky glugging, and Gustafsson appears to be playing either a kazoo or humming through a paper’n’comb. It’s all the more powerful when his baritone-rending returns. Reid occasionally sounds like he’s in his own universe, not directly responding to the other pair, but mostly the resultant sound shimmers with a spectacular unity. The final run of The Sun Never Sets edges towards a Kraftwerkian industriousness, Gustafsson crying out aloft with a noir bluesiness.

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