Recorded over the course of a day with no overdubs, edits, or outtakes, Kieran Hebden (the Artist Usually Known as Four Tet) and brilliant jazz percussionist Steve Reid have released the second chapter of their Exchange Session series. Fans of the first volume, released in March, will not be disappointed by its successor’s collection of elastic, enthusiastic rhythms — in fact, Exchange Session Vol. 2 improves on some of its predecessor’s lesser points. Unfortunately for the performers, the audience for this sequel may be limited to those who heard and liked the first of the series.
The strength of this disc and its free-jazz-wielding style relies heavily on Reid’s solid, inspired performances. As was the case with his performances on Miles Davis’ Tutu LP, Reid’s drum style is enthusiastic and grounded in its spiritually centered core. Hebden makes a valiant effort, squeezing his very best jazz stylings out of a traditionally linear instrument. His electronic improvisations are impressive, but the driving force on The Exchange Session Vol. 2 is its percussion.
But it’s important to remember that we’re dealing in live, improvisational performances on this disc. This context can change your overall impression of the album. Without knowing the musicians’ or the records’ background, some of the effect of the collaboration could be lost. The bottom line: Hebden and Reid are dripping with creative juices and they’ve created fresh sounds here, but there are few compelling reasons to listen to The Exchange Session Vol. 2 more than once. Sure, the album has some brilliant moments, such as the shimmering, climactic plateaus of “We Dream Free,” but such instances don’t necessarily warrant repeated listens. Perhaps you have to witness the creation of this music firsthand to truly appreciate it.