STEVE REID ENSEMBLE

 

"I knew how much Trane wanted to go to Africa and he inspired me to go. Art Blakey, my first inspiration, also spent a lot of time in Africa because it was the root. So, I went on a freight liner, it was carrying diesel engines, it only cost $75. I took my drum set… it was really strange, we got to the Canary Islands and changed to another boat, I remember it was called African Moon on Pharaoh Lines. This guy came running up to me and said, "Are you the drummer?"… as they were unloading, my drums had fallen in to the sea and I was like 'Oh no…' but then, to me, it was like a baptism. I thought, this is heavy 'cause to me I was like recreating the slave journey backwards. I was reversing history."

Steve Reid is never short of a good story. The man has lived life and the reminiscence above, lifted from a Straight No Chaser interview, illuminates the spiritual and political dimensions that define his life in music. In the hope of capturing just a smidgeon of his immense spirit, I feel honored to write a few notes about this brand new collection of rhythmic ideas captured during his first visit to Africa in over four decades.

I first came across Steve whilst delving through the lesser fingered racks of the jazz avant garde. You see, as well as having accompanied the greatest of the greats, from James Brown to Chaka Khan via Miles Davis and Sun Ra, Steve has also remained one of the true independent innovators. His Nova and Rhythmatism LPs on the Mustevic label have long been essentials for the beat purveyor - and of course with renewed fandom came the Soul Jazz reissues plus the Spirit Walk album, so thankfully his music can now be found more widely!

During the three years, during the '60s, that he lived in Africa, Steve Reid learned to play Ghanaian Hi-Life from the legendary Guy Warren, he hung out with spiritually charged, scholar and pianist Randy Weston in Morocco and forged what was to be an ongoing relationship with Fela Anikulapo Kuti. It was a deep experience that was set against a belief that a new era was in the making. A tide of optimism fuelled the struggle for African independence from its colonial rulers.

However, once back in the USA, he was confronted with the ongoing legacy of slavery. He entered another dimension of the freedom struggle as an upsurge in militant Black consciousness was poised to over-shadow the peaceful path of Dr. King's Civil Rights movement. Despite the rising tide of opposition to the escalating war in Vietnam, the only welcome that Steve Reid received upon his return was from the FBI, who arrested him for dodging the draft. It was an arrest that resulted in a four-year jail sentence.

The cause of freedom, on all levels, has remained at the core of Steve Reid's existence and during recent times the drummer has found a greater understanding in Europe, which is where so many fringe crusaders like Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Sahib Shihab, Dexter Gordon and Idris Muhamed found an enthusiastic and receptive audience. Today, it is from Lugano, Switzerland that he usually embarks on his travels in a constant quest to 'keep in the rhythm'!

Determined to get his music over to a new generation, he has sought out like minded musical souls and his recent collaborations, live and recorded, with electronica wiz, Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet, have won them both critical acclaim and alerted a new audience to Steve's innovative back catalogue. So, for Steve Reid to return to the home of the drums in January 2007 was a natural trip. What is it with drummers? Tony Allen, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones... so much energy!

It's fitting that the drummer should choose Dakar, the rhythm capital of Africa, to document his return, but don¹t expect this album, Daxaar, to be a drum fest where traps meet the rattling polyrhythmic, sabar and tama drums that underpin Senegalese Mbalax. This is one groove based, funky affair with touches of Bitches Brew and Ra, that connects the Bronx to Dakar (check: "Dabronxaar"). He's enlisted Kieran's skills on electronics and as album producer. He's also given sonic keys-man, Boris Netsvetaev, the job of musical director.

From the opening salvo of Isa Kouyate's "Welcome," with its chugging b-line and swishing cymbals, it's strictly one take action. The people in Studio Dogo would have been tripping at what these guys were laying down. The local crew are on top form and while Khadim Badji peppers the set with percussion, Bembe Diop rocks some solid bass throughout. The aptly named Jimi Mbaye rolls in on "Daxaar" and, dare we say, echoes of Santana abound alternating with that subtle African clipped, repetetive, picked guitar style. The addition of trumpet from Roger Ongola connects us to those wayward, jazz heretics and global adventurers, Don Cherry and Lester Bowie.

This is a rhythmic feast for those who like their jazz "out there" and it has to be said that the combination of Boris Netsvetaev's keys and Kieran's electronic interventions take us out in another dimension. If the quest is to "keep in the rhythm" then Steve Reid is The Man and Daxaar is the lick.

- Gilles Peterson (May 2007)

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FILES BY STEVE REID ENSEMBLE