Live At the South Bank
It serves as a fitting testament to drummer Steve Reid’s expansive imagination that a career beginning with James Brown and Horace Silver progressed to the point where his final years were spent in intense communication with the novel sounds of a British electronic musician a generation or two his junior.
Recorded less than a year before his death at 66 in 2010, this double-disc live date is the sixth and final product of Reid’s tandem with Kieran Hebden, a.k.a. Four Tet. For the occasion, the pair was joined by Swedish sax extremist Mats Gustafsson, though on the mesmerizing first track Reid and Hebden go it alone. Gustafsson was so rapt by their music that he simply failed to join in.
It’s an understandable reaction given the cosmic ecstasy of “Morning Prayer,” which builds tides within tides, sci-fi echoes caroming off of the drummer’s hypnotic intensity, enrobed in Hebden’s dizzying swirls of sound. Gustafsson finally enters as that trance gives way to the insistent beat of “Lyman Place,” building like the far-off howls of a wounded animal until his guttural bellows overtake; an explosive crescendo suddenly transforms the trio into an apocalyptic R&B combo.
The six tracks are essentially portions of one lengthy improvisation, each replete with diverse textures and colors. Each occasionally takes the fore, Gustafsson’s ravenous attack ceding to Hebden’s robotic boogie, overcome by a forceful flurry from Reid. But the drummer serves throughout as the heartbeat at the center of a hurricane, providing himself with a suitably wide-ranging epitaph.