When renowned jazz drummer Steve Reid passed away in April 2010 from throat cancer, it cut short not only a glittering fifty-year journey that had seen him play with such legendary names as Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, James Brown and Fela Kuti, but also an all-too-brief late-career renaissance that the former Motown session player enjoyed thanks to his particularly fruitful partnership with young electronic producer and DJ Kieran Hebden. Collaborating first on his 2005 Soul Jazz release Spirit Walk, Reid and the man better known as Four Tet bonded so well – both musically and personally – that Hebden was moved to describe the drummer as his “musical soul mate”. Live At The South Bank documents an extraordinary show at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall from June 2009, where the pair were joined by The Thing/ Fire! saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, but whilst the latter’s contributions certainly lend proceedings an air of raw spontaneity, it’s the fluid, almost telepathic interplay between Hebden and Reid that really thrills. Jamming their way through extended versions of six tracks from their four studio albums, Hebden – for the most part – lets Reid steer the ship, complementing whatever rhythms emerge – be it free jazz, funk, Afrobeat, disco or Krautrock – with the kind of whistles, bells, dub FX and spacey synths you’d expect from a Four Tet record. When Gustafsson does let loose – honking along with Hebden’s jet-engine power electronics on “Lyman Place” or taking an uncharacteristically melodic bebop solo towards the climax of “The Sun Never Sets” – the electric chemistry between all three makes it hard not to dwell on what-ifs, but the sad fact the trio never got the chance to take to the studio cannot detract from the spectacle of the occasion. As a live album, it stands alongside classics like The Who’s Live At Leeds or Coltrane At The Village Vanguard, but it also serves as a souvenir of a magical night, as well as a fitting tribute to a brilliant partnership and a great man.
Live At The South Bank is out now on Smalltown Supersound