Album Reviews

Steve Reid Ensemble – Daxaar

(Domino) UK release date: 19 November 2007

Steve Reid Ensemble - Daxaar Daxaar marks a journey of rediscovery for legendary jazz percussionist Steve Reid – the rediscovery of the African beats and rhythms of a country whose diaspora has had far more of an influence on music than its present. Recorded in Studio Dakar Senegal, its languid and laid back jazz experimentalism is red wine music for sunset over the Serengeti.

Steve Reid’s CV is a journey not only through the great and the good, but also the ultra-hip, from collaborations with Martha and the Vandellas in his teens, through Sun Ra, Miles Davis, James Brown and more recently, Four Tet‘s Kieran Hebden, with whom he created last year’s superb Exchange Sessions and Tongues.

While Reid takes centre stage here, with an album that jumps between free jazz experimentation and roots drumming, there is also tempered input from Hebden. His electronics provide enough of a reminder to fans of the duo’s recent collaborations to make the end product sound comfortably familiar while fresh and different enough to be more than simply a repeat of what’s gone before.

Through its six tracks, Daxaar continues the themes of improvisation and close collaboration that attracted Reid to Hebden in the first place, filtered through a more overtly African sound. The album was recorded on Reid’s first visit in more than four decades to the continent on which he previously lived for three years in the 1960s, hanging out with, being influenced by and learning from Guy Warren and Fela Kuti amongst others.

Daxaar opens with the aptly named Welcome, as delicate and light beats skitter over a melody to which Isa Kouyate adds vocals; elsewhere this is a mostly instrumental album. Gentle and minimalist, it brings out the best in the beats before and highlights their importance before they’ll sometimes be buried in the more complex compositions that follow.

This segues into title track Daxaar, which has more of a desert beat, reminiscent of the sunset sounds Reid often produces with Hebden. The jazz touches imposed on this by Roger Ongolo’s trumpet are particular treats, while on Jiggy Jiggy, the electronics poke through a more traditional lounge beat.

Be aware that Big G’s Family could be the kind of track that people who don’t like jazz improvisation warn you about. It sways along for perhaps a little too long with guitars that give a nod to ’70s prog, but by now you’ll be nodding along with its rhythms too happily to complain. By the time the hypnotic beats of closing track Don’t Look Back come along you’re ready to do exactly that, falling asleep as you imagine yourself floating away from an African beach on a boat headed for the centre of the sun.

This is a wonderful album designed for an unbearably hot night, when a ceiling fan, G&T and not moving at all still can’t cool you down. We might not have those in England but with a little imagination Daxaar could take you there, and that’s a winter tonic definitely worth having.

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