Kieren Hebden and Steve Reid - Tongues

Dan Round 03/03/2007

Rating: 5/5

The partnership of Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid has to be one of the most wondrously odd in recent music history. For those of you who have no prior knowledge of these two fantastic musicians, this double act is basically made up of a young electronica producer and an old jazz drummer. Hebden, a producer on the Domino label and collaborator with the genre-bending Four Tet as well as a member of the band Fridge, met Reid, the legendary drummer with acts such as Fela Kuti, Miles Davis, Dionne Warwick and of course, James Brown, in 2005. The pair intrigued with each other's unique brands of music instantly started work with each other. The culmination was the acclaimed “Exchange Sessions” in 2006. Now back with “Tongues”, the duo appear more at ease with their surroundings, working off each other in quite spectacular fashion.

Opener “The Sun Never Sets” is the type of music Hebden has been making for some time - subtle background bleeps with dramatic electronic overtones. This, however, is the only song on the album in which Reid's rhythm doesn't feature heavily, rather allowing Hebden's programmed samples to take the lead role. On “People Be Happy”, for example, Reid's African tribal beats dominate with Hebden's techno layering up to create a truly memorable genre mix-up.

This album is the sound of two masters of their stylings allowing themselves to be as free as they like. It really shows - “Tongues” is the most exhilarating piece of experimentation you will hear all year. Track 6, “Rhythm Dance” is most certainly like nothing you will have heard before with Reid's inventive percussion instrumentation clashing joyously with Hebden's pounding, swirling and unexhaustive soundscapes; the following “Mirrors” is Aphex Twin's music box meets Coltrane's rhythm; and the re-work of “Greensleeves” in track 5 is innovative and clear proof that there are musical boundaries still left to be broken.

In short “Tongues” is a mini-masterpiece. It will make your head whirl and leave you in awe. As the final ambient strains of “Left Handed, Left Minded” fade away and the tireless pulse beats its last beat, you know that what you have just heard is a truly special collaboration - two guys at totally different stages in their careers and at different spectrums of the musical
map, at the top of their game.

When 2007 draws to an end and I am asked “So, Daniel… what are your top 10 albums of the year?” I can be quite positive that, for its imagination, “Tongues” will be included. This is a minimalist electronic-jazz fusion that deserves recognition. Head thumping genius.