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Music Reviews

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Sub Pop
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid
The Exchange Session, Vol. 1

Rating: 7.5/10 ?

March 20, 2006
It would seem Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid have nothing in common. One is a seasoned jazz drummer who learned under the tutelage of none other than John
Coltrane and has performed with Miles Davis, James Brown and Martha and the Vandellas; the other is a twenty-something avant-electronic noisemaker. They
have a mutual appreciation for each other's work, sure, but appreciation is one thing; calling someone your "musical soulmate" as Reid does of Hebden in the liner notes of The Exchange Session, Vol. 1 is quite another.

Despite the differences in age, experience and genre, the connection between Hebden and Reid isn't hard to follow; the two find common ground in a passion for unconventional rhythms and experimental jazz. They decided to record an album together after only a few brief meetings, and the resulting collaboration was put to tape in one take with no overdubs or editing.

Showboating aside, The Exchange Session, Vol. 1 comes off as weird, minimalist and organic. Reid is the main attraction here, shifting rhythms and tempos seamlessly over the album's three tracks while Hebden provides the occasional electronic flourish. Anyone who's heard Four Tet will recognize Hebden's soundwaves of choice, perhaps to a fault. A lot of the same hums and buzzes can be found on his other albums, and this leaves the listener with the impression that he's sometimes just recycling material (a telltale section of "Electricity And Drums Will Change Your Mind" uses the screeching phaser from Everything Ecstatic's "A Joy"). The sounds work in the context of The Exchange Session, but you'd think that Hebden could dig a little deeper, modulate a little more.

The combination of digital noises and old-fashioned drums is a sound that takes some getting used to, especially since both musicians favor the higher pitches. Reid's percussion relies on cymbals and high hats more than bass drum kicks, which can be a problem when Hebden lets loose with one of his high-frequency spasms. The resulting din initially feels as if the bright sounds are competing against one another, though after a few listens ears become acclimated and can enjoy the cacophony.

Like all free jazz albums, The Exchange Session, Vol. 1 should be approached with caution. It's a great night-driving companion and opens up to the patient listener willing to give it more than one chance. Hebden and Reid obviously have some kind of chemistry going on, one that should continue to evolve on the upcoming The Exchange Session, Vol. 2. This certainly isn't the weirdest thing I've ever heard, but it's probably the weirdest thing I've ever recommended to a friend.

Reviewed by Andy Brown
A regular contributor to LAS, Andy Brown lives in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, but doesn\'t think he has an accent.

See other reviews by Andy Brown



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