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Steve Reid Ensemble : Daxaar

How’s this for a fantasy résumé? Drummer Steve Reid has, during his multi-decade career, played with Sun Ra, Miles, Trane, Hendrix, James Brown and the Motown hitmakers (that’s him on the original “Dancing in the Street”). As if that wouldn’t be enough fodder for an autobiography, he was a Black Panther and spent time in prison for refusing to serve in Vietnam. But one of the transformative experiences of his life came when, after graduating college, he boarded a freighter for Africa, packing his drums and soaking up the local sounds-during that instructive time he played with Fela Kuti, Guy Warren and Randy Weston, among others, and learned rhythms he’d never heard back home in New York. Daxaar, its title an early spelling of Dakar, the Senegalese capital, is Reid’s giveback. Returning to the scene of so much inspiration, with his regular collaborators-keyboardist Boris Netsvetaev and electronicist Kieran Hebden-in tow, Reid sought out local players and instructed them to just play, no rehearsals necessary. You might expect a free-jazz free-for-all as the result, but Daxaar never goes that route. “Welcome,” the opening track, is sans percussion-and leader-a pastoral, sweet intro featuring Isa Kouyate on vocal and the West African stringed kora. From there it’s jam time, as Reid and crew hunker down into a series of rocksteady grooves that sometimes reach toward early-’70s Miles (“Don’t Look Back”) and at other times early Santana (the title track). “Dabronxxar” (the Bronx/Dakar-get it?) and “Jiggy Jiggy” are loose-fitting vamps that probably go on a few minutes too long but maintain their feel-good funk-tion as the transcontinental cast trades riffs, Reid all along supplying the pulse steadily and merrily.

Originally Published