Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid - The Exchange Sessions

"As for authenticity, writers on jazz seem to have this hang up on authenticity, just like that idiot from the Sterophonics."

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid – The Exchange Sessions


Now then, I must confess to having something of a problem with jazz. I'm not proud of this, but it seems only fair to state the fact at the beginning of a review of an improvised jazz album. What's my problem? Well, it's not that I dislike all jazz - I've got plenty of jazz albums in my collection. (Tasteful 'cocktail bar' jazz sends me insane, however, and makes me want to kill the people playing it. And those that enjoy it too.) My problem, I think, has to do with two things – talent and authenticity. With regards to talent, have you ever read a review of a jazz musician that went along these lines – he couldn't play very well, was technically deficient in a lot of areas, but he had incredible energy and could really write a song. I haven't. All one ever reads is how great the players all were. Boring. It is akin to the debate had on these august pages some months ago about Queen. Technically great guitarists and drummers and all that but Christ, you wouldn't want to listen to them. Well, most would actually, but never mind. What I like about pop and rock and so forth is that technical ability is great if you have it, but it isn't required. Just get up there and do it. As for authenticity, writers on jazz seem to have this hang up on authenticity, just like that idiot from the Sterophonics. It's a slightly different take on the fool's hatred of keyboards and so on (although Miles Davis' electric period did piss a lot of jazz aficionados off) – but it still prides itself on rawness and the 'real'. Hence on the Exchange Sessions the album proudly states that the music contained within was recorded live, was not edited and contains no overdubs. Who cares? And what's more, if such things would improve the music, shouldn't they be used? Hebden's work as FourTet is cobbled together on his computer at home – is this fact mentioned in the album notes? No – the music is what it is, irrespective of how it was created.


So, what do the Exchange Sessions sound like? Well, Reid drums and Hebden twiddles some knobs in accompaniment. The resultant sounds vary greatly – sometimes the electronics sound like giant mutant flies zipping around in a demented manner; sometimes they resemble standard keyboards and are almost tuneful. Sometimes the sounds are like an old space invaders game gone wrong, endlessly slipping and sticking and making a din. Sometimes it sounds like there is a squawking alto sax in the room: never a good thing. All the while Reid pounds away on the drums. Well, not strictly true – he also appears to clobber away at bells, chimes and pots and pans. I've no problem with the music and Reid's drumming is amazing. (I've been fortunate recently to see a couple of improvised drum sets by the incredible Chris Corsano (of Sunburned Hand of the Man etc.) and I enjoyed much of Glenn Kotche's percussion album Mobile. The old jokes about drummers just won't wash any more.) My only issue concerns what the electronics bring to the album. It is not the question of whether they should be there, merely that I think Hebden could have done more with his contributions. This might appear harsh, but I've certainly no doubt that should Hebden follow this path he will create more and more interesting sounds (and noises) in the future.