Droning white noise, electronic sounds, blips and whirs and scrapes, long passages and even songs built entirely on a single chord—this is the stuff of NYC, the fourth album by the duo of Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid. Reid plays the drums, and Hebden manipulates electronics and plays some electric guitar too. Beyond that, it is difficult to describe what these two men do. A simple explanation might be that they create grooves almost out of nothing. One chord and a driving beat is all they need, and they’re off.
The more unusual half of this duo is, of course, Hebden, since most of what he creates comes from computers. (He often records under the name Four Tet.) Still, it is hard to escape the feeling that Reid provides the magic. He seems to react with ease to the flow of noise that Hebden sets forth. Somehow Reid manages to make it sound natural that a jazz drummer would derive creative energy from noises produced by zeroes and ones. To be sure, the emphasis is on texture and atmospherics more than writing, but there are places where melody and songcraft threaten to surface. “1st and 1st” is a mad groove, in a Medeski Martin & Wood sort of way. Guitar assumes the role of bass, and all the electronic buzzing nearly constitutes a melody. “Lyman Place” pumps so much adrenaline into two notes that it wants to collapse under its own weight, yet it manages to honor the buildup and release of tension that has always been the bread and butter of jazz. The music on NYC tries so hard to be cool that my impulse is to detest it. I can’t. It’s too thrilling.