Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, and renowned jazz drummer Steve Reid have been collaborating together since 2006, producing a somewhat prolific four albums in the past three years. Tonight’s special performance for the Meltdown festival sees them continue that fruitful partnership. With Hebden on laptop and controllers producing electronic touches and Reid on drums it’s clear from the very start that the duo have developed a deep musical understanding of each other.
A dark electronic hum is joined by Reid’s shimmering cymbal patterns as the opening track increases in volume and intensity, like a wave building, at first distant then coming closer before engulfing all before it. This then calms before building again into a different groove.
Whether they are just jamming or if this is planned it’s jawdropping stuff, and Reid looks so ecstatic and lost in the moment. Having played alongside the likes of Miles Davis, James Brown and curator of this year’s Meltdown festival, Ornette Coleman, it should be no wonder that 65-year-old Reid is so talented, but his playing proves to be absolutely hypnotic.
Swedish saxophone player Mats Gustafsson then joins Reid and Hebden on stage, screeching over the bubbling cauldron of acidic electronics and driving beats that evolve into a hypnotic dance track. Hebden creates a techno stab and Reid’s scattergun drums pepper the air above it as the sax spills over the top. Gustafsson then bashes his teeth on his instrument to create an odd kind of percussion as the music reaches another crescendo of synths and drums.
A freeform wig out follows as Hebden conjures up a repetitive, ’60s-style bassline, which proves simple but so effective. It evolves into an entrancing groove before slowing and fading then kicking back into the groove. It’s so intense it forces the hairs on your neck to stand up. A simple dance loop then meets skittering, idiosyncratic drums and Gustafsson swaps his sax for an unidentifiable instrument which turns out to be a fluteophone. An undulating bass pattern is then joined by Reid’s impassioned drumming before being layered with a calypso-style strumming.
The finale is breathtaking. A simple hook turns into a repetitive whirlwind of sound as the drums then the synth freaks out and finally the sax brays back into earshot. It speeds up before ebbing away again, leaving just the sax and kick drum.
The joy of this performance lay in its unexpectedly free flowing nature, as any pre-conceived perceptions of how marrying the sounds of Four Tet and free jazz were blown wide open with every track. At no point did the combination feel forced or unnatural and, while it may have been overwhelming in its intensity at times, the musical alchemy of jazz and electronica was perfectly struck. And looking at the elated faces of Hebden and Reid you get the feeling that theirs is a partnership that will continue to thrive.