Dusted Reviews

Steve Reid Ensemble - Spirit Walk

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Steve Reid Ensemble

Album: Spirit Walk

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Jan. 25, 2006

Perhaps only wonder and tenacity could have carried drummer Steve Reid from early sessions with Martha and the Vandellas (“Heatwave”) and James Brown (“Popcorn”) to Africa, where he played with Fela, among others, and finally to his adopted home of Switzerland. With a performance history peppered with names like Henry Threadgill, Olatunji, Archie Shepp, and Sam Rivers, it's still surprising that the Steve Reid Ensemble finds it's groove on Spirit Walk with FourTet's Kieran Hebden, if only for the cache associated with the latter.

Hebden's persistent electronic gurgle and hiss, injected throughout, stands out as such a distinguishing element within the sweaty pulse of Reid's group that it almost threatens to distract the listener from what is already a staunch individualist groove. Like a whole pack of Jah Wobbles, Reid's crew, including bassist John Edwards, soprano sax player Chuck Henderson, and keyboardist Boris Netsvetaev, attack their instruments seemingly without any preconceived notion of what they are supposed to do or how they are supposed to sound. The bass hammers, the drums sing, and the saxes squawk, cut and bite in grunts and hollers. Rhythmically the group wavers between hard, late-’60s funk and the giddy-but-elegant hyper waltz of “Better Git It In Your Soul.” When the music is submerged in the most blue-collar, dog-fighting grooves, Hebden's quirks and squeaks are either bringing a spatial gloss to the proceedings or are sticking to the hull of the funk like barnacles on a fishing boat… there's no point in separating the two because they are of the same sea.

Reid's generosity as a leader leaves enough space on the arrangements that the organic chemistry of the ensemble often finds new combinations floating to the top of a composition. “Lugano” sees Reid's four-sax frontline growl out an extended incantation, but drives itself hard to the finish and collapses suddenly, like a soldier's marathon ending in bad news delivered to the king.

The fierce and heavy prophecy of “Drum Song” matches poetry with a simmering duel between Reid and Hebden, a frantic, sonic Tower of Babel in which Reid coaxes every possible sound from his drums and cymbals. Other compositions, however, feature an ensemble that's so tight, it's hard not to picture them practicing in a U-Haul storage space or an elevator, sharing air, sleep, and food the same way one of Reid's early mentors, Sun Ra, might have had it. The flavor of the ensemble, however, often depends on which player takes the lead, particularly when bassist Edwards introduces compositions like the amped-up “Lions of Judah” or “Which One?”

Netsvetaev's organ careens through the session in jagged, rusty slashes, carving away at the languid, funky compositional bodies like a found lawnmower with one more start in it. Paired only with Reid's purposeful martial battery, the two could easily be mistaken for a strip show combo one moment and a deep-fried southern funk outfit the next. However, in nearly every instance where the band starts to congeal to resemble a post-Messengers coherence and duty, though, Hebden's contributions squeeze themselves in between the core members and pull the affair into another orbit altogether.

By Andy Freivogel

Other Reviews of Steve Reid Ensemble


Read More

View all articles by Andy Freivogel

Find out more about Soul Jazz

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.