Steve Reid has been hitting the skins for a long time now. With a career spanning over four decades, he's worked with everyone from Sun Ra to James Brown. He's drummed with Lester Bowie, Miles Davis, Charles Tyler, Arthur Blythe, and Ornette Coleman, among others. He spent time in jail during the Vietnam war for being a conscientious objector, and spent time in West Africa, playing and learning the music of Ghana and Nigeria. Needless to say, Reid has already had a long and varied career, and just to show he's not ready to slow down, he's teamed up with rising star electronic musician Kieren Hebden for a couple releases. Spirit Walk is the first of two releases featuring the two to be released (with another to follow next year), and it mixes the familiar framework of Steve Reid's work with a bit of electronic squiggling from Hebden.
For much of Spirit Walk, one might even be a bit hard pressed to hear the contributions of Hebden, as many tracks seem to be straight-up jazz workouts from a polished group of players. Album opener "Lugano" busts out of the gates with a bunch of horns and swaggering upright bass while Reid cranks the kit and tracks like "For Coltrane" swerve with a thick organ and horn groove that recalls the work of the master mentioned in the title. In other places, though, Hebden definitely presence known, and it's mostly when the group goes a bit more freestyle.
"Drum Story" is the most blatant of these tracks, and arriving second on the album it may come as a bit of a surprise to listeners following on the heels of the more standard opener. At almost fifteen minutes in running length, the track is an almost freeform musical rant, with ambient blippy sections giving way to pummeling rhythmic freakouts and spoken-word passages taking on government and social structures. It's one of the only tracks on the release where the fabled billing (of Reid and Hebden) actually feels like an actual give and take, with Mr. Four Tet ebbing and flowing his glitchery to coincide nicely with the rest of the instrumentation.
In other places, there's more of a blend between the two, and those seem to be the tracks that work the best. "Lions Of Judah" is an awesome eight minute workout that's probably the single best track on the album, with everyone seemingly locked in tight with one another, while the closing track of "Unity" is another nine minute bomb that builds with intense instrumentation and some crazy outbursts from Hebden. Running almost seventy minutes in length, Spirit Walk could have probably been trimmed a smidgen in places, but overall it's an exciting effort from an artist who shows he isn't afraid to collaborate with the youngsters and see where it goes.