Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: Tongues
Bob Burnett: In thinking about how to approach this write-up I got more and more into making a mental list about duet albums and duets in particular I find myself attracted to. John Coltrane-Rashied Ali, Jeremy Steig-Eddie Gomez, Sam Rivers-Dave Holland, Anthony Braxton-Richard Teitelbaum, Don Cherry-Ed Blackwell came to mind immediately. Also scores of duet arrangements Derek Bailey played in with people such as John Zorn, Cyro Baptista, Jamie Muir, Tony Oxley and Evan Parker. I'm sure you could come up with your own off-the-top of the head list too.
Thanks to Tongues , I'm able to add Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid to my list. This duo brings together Hebden's spontaneous/improvisational electronics with Reid's "big ear" interpretive, yet groovin' drumming-- which offers insight into how his skills have allowed him to be a legendary Motown house guy (playing Martha and the Vandellas "Dancin' in the Streets" as a teenager) as well as spanning the world of Afro-groove and "new thing" jazz with artists such as Fela Kuti, Charles Tyler, Frank Lowe and many others over the last 40 or so years.
Tongues brings to mind the "mad scientist" music happenings that accompanied the Merce Cunningham dance company in the '60s and '70s--where John Cage, David Tudor, Earle Brown and scores of others over the years would sit behind portable tables filled with "black boxes" of sound generating equipment all connected by miles of patch cord cables and speaker wire to create textural soundscapes that filled the concert hall for the Cunningham dancers on stage.
Hebden and Reid's interplay floats from sounds that cover digital skipping cacophony to gamelan, car alarm to balafon to video game to beach arcade to musique concrete in their sonic pursuits. Throughout Reid maintains steady, yet clever, pulses which work for me as a freeing device for Hebden's ingenuity. Hebden must be having a riot of a time in this duet--he's mostly known as the name behind the much more controlled, safer (albeit excellent) electronica-pop of Four Tet. I was pleasantly surprised by how far "out" this album goes. I was expecting something much more reserved and "pretty".
They also have a webpage that demonstrates their interplay nicely. Take a look to get a glimpse into their world.
I've fallen deeply into enjoying Tongues and look forward to exploring their other albums. Granted, this one takes time to sink in so don't immediately run fast the other way wondering what in the world was I thinking by leading you to this far-reaching album. The pay-off is worth it in the long run.