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Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid: Tongues

Modernist jazz rarely goes the futurist route, preferring distended time figures and atonal settings to the blips and blurs and electronic wheezes of the computer age, but this set is a virtual Tomorrowland of sound.

Eschewing overdubs for a purer dialogue of ideas, Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid have reimagined what’s essentially robotic machine music in terms of instrumentation-Hebden’s sampler lines reverberate like crashing metal waves-for an undertaking entirely more organic, a distillation of individual, emotionally charged voices, responding and reacting to each other in tandem.

Keen on melody, the duo wisely offer it up-with the same seductiveness of pop duo Air-as time off from passages that revel in discordance, like a low, long, near-static hum, for instance, or Reid’s kick-drum accents syncopating torrents of gusting white noise that occasionally cease and then begin again, over and over, on one beat-the aesthetics of a disc skipping that’s not really skipping. “Rhythm Dance” provides a nice summation of the emotional undercurrent central to the set’s 10 conversational sound manifestos, but “Greensleeves”-that previous delight of the folky bard-is the duo’s ultimate departure, the template so long established in our minds challenged anew. Coltrane’s reading lent the composition the cachet of the avant-garde, but here it’s downright interplanetary, with disembodied, shimmering tones to rouse both Holst and one’s sense of irony that such material could be sourced from a time that’s already come and gone.

Originally Published