I can’t deny that Kieran Hebden and Steve Reed are on to a fascinating concept—improvisational electronica. The very idea of electronic music goes against organic flow. It’s pre-programmed and sampled, which is why, for the most part, when you see live electronic acts, they’re surrounded by lights and dancers and other sideshow acts. This isn’t to say you can’t do it, but jamming, electronically, just typically isn’t done. Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, however, gives it a shot in his collaboration with legendary drummer Steve Reid, a man who has played with Miles Davis, Fela Kuti and James Brown. That’s one motherfucker of a resume.
Needless to say, The Exchange Session Vol. 1 doesn’t sound like typical electronica. In fact, it sounds more like jazz. Not Dizzy Gillespie or Thelonious Monk; more like Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. Though a line can easily be drawn from the space odysseys on Four Tet’s most recent album, Everything Ecstatic and this work, the same cannot be said of Rounds or any of Hebden’s earlier work. Rather than focus on loops and repeated rhythms, this set is all about the journey that these two musicians embark upon during this jam session.
Split into three tracks, The Exchange Session finds the duo treading into spaced-out territory, often hammering into a solid groove once the music starts to collect itself. Strongly rhythmic and primal, the sessions are exercises in percussive harmony. “Morning Prayer,” the shortest track at six minutes, is an energetic piece that finds Hebden using what sounds like saxophone samples at one point, opening the record with a slightly more straightforward sounding track than the other two. “Soul Oscillations,” meanwhile, builds over the course of 14 minutes, like gases collecting into a big bang of rhythm and melody. Starting loose and hushed, the track slowly becomes a pounding maelstrom of sounds, Hebden eventually throwing in more melodic samples and even some extra percussive sounds to counter Reid’s drums.
“Electricity and Drum Will Change Your Mind” is the third and final piece of the set, and arguably the strongest. Opening with heady layers of fluid samples and Reid’s skipping drum beats, it’s almost a dance track, though this is, of course, not actually dance music. Whatever the classification for this song or the entire set, it’s pleasing to the ears, and a welcome diversion from conventional electronic music.
Miles Davis – In a Silent Way
Four Tet – Everything Ecstatic
Sun Ra – Space is the Place
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.