Live: Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid at the World Financial Center


Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid
World Financial Center’s Winter Garden
Tuesday, July 22

On paper it seems unlikely that a 64-year-old jazz drummer and the 27-year-old bright light of post-rock and hero to laptop-wielding hipsters everywhere might actually, you know, sound good together. Thankfully, Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden, who played the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden last night as part of the River to River festival, are more confident about the premise of their project than I am. The duo played their special brand of long-form (songs generally last between 15-20 minutes), improvisatory music for about an hour in the palm-tree lined, uber-corporate atrium at the WFC, Reid layering complex rhythms on top of Hebden’s found sounds and carefully disjointed beats. Somehow it worked.

The fact that they play well together is not to say that Hebden and Reid are not a strange pair. Reid, who has collaborated with pretty much everyone in jazz, is an icon in the experimental scene, known for his rhythmic playfulness and a chameleonic ability to switch styles on a whim. He played with Fela Kuti in Africa in the early 60s and with Sun Ra’s Science Myth Solar Arkestra in 1968, not to mention the likes of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and Sam Rivers after that. Hebden began his career with the band Fridge, before releasing a slew of critically acclaimed solo electronic folkc albums as Four Tet.
Jazzers have known about Reid for years, but the recent collaboration with Hebden has made him a familiar name among the post-rock set as well. And rightly so. Together the two musicians are more accessible than either of their solo projects let on. Reid’s churning beats add depth to Hebden’s electronic textures. The show had the feeling of a conversation between virtuosos. Reid would begin a number with a relatively straightforward backbeat and Hebden would gradually introduce new elements – a bass line, perhaps, or intermittent acid-tinged crashes – before taking over the beat himself and morphing it into something different and new. Then Reid would reciprocate. Like a lot of free jazz, enjoying this stuff is hard work, though let me be the first to say that its worth your trouble. In the middle of the closing song the bass dropped out of a relaxed groove and Reid filled four bars with frenetic snare subdivision, leaving the careful listener feeling weightless and lightheaded, like a swift punch in the gut. Moments like this are common in Hebden/Reid pieces, though they catch me by surprise every time.