Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid | WIG219 | Released: 03/11/08
Think of a studio that's seen Missy Elliot, Miles Davis, The Roots, Chic, Steve Reich, Ron Carter, and Joe Henderson record classic sides, then try to imagine a duo whose sound is so open-ended and original that it would be a surprisingly short step to connect them to anyone of those names – a sound that fuses the digital slash-and-staple of sampling and the irresistible momentum of jazz drumming, all without ever forgetting that there’s such a place as the dancefloor. The studio is Avatar, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen; the duo is Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid.
Kieran and Steve recorded NYC at Avatar over two days in February 2008, and the choice of location is at the heart of what the record is about. “Steve wanted to do something with the sound and feel of his home city,” explains Kieran. The whole set, down to the choice of tracks and their sequencing, was influenced by New York City’s (in)famous energies.
The duo’s impressionistic take on their New York surroundings comes out in a language that’s got increasingly developed as the two build up their history. With NYC, Kieran and Steve are already onto their fourth album together in three years, not to mention Kieran's contributions to Steve Reid Ensemble records in the same time (such as last year’s Daxaar for Domino). This continuous flow of collaboration and work has blossomed into its most satisfying shapes yet. While their earliest sets were instant compositions, Kieran and Steve went into Avatar with a number of themes already mapped out, and road-tested over the course of the previous year’s live shows.
Kieran is credited as playing simply “electronics”, but that doesn’t do justice to the sound collages he whips up here. Sampled fragments of analogue synth, melodica, Kieran’s own electric guitar playing, white noise, all are turned into riffs that are sent to buzz around the central motor that is Steve Reid’s extraordinary drumming. The “talking drum” is a fundamental part of West African musical tradition; but if drums can talk, Steve shows they can sing too, such is the bell-like clarity of his tone and touch. With its garrulous give and take, its musical questions and answers, NYC is Kieran and Steve’s best work yet. The only question it leaves the listener with at the close is: what’s the next destination?