By Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid
The CD inlay reads 'written by Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid', yet to see this as a written piece is to miss the point. This is improvisation. Carefully tweaked electronics pour over symbols and high-hats, moving the listener through a spontaneous joust of the organic and the machine. Moments of beauty appear and disappear in-between a wall of sound, constructed by a seemingly child-like enterprise and a unique experimentalism. At times too fragmented, too self-conscious, this three-track fifty-three minute offering demands repeated listens.
Superficially, it may seem like an odd partnership. The Exchange Session is, however, the next step in Hebden's bridging of the digital and the organic. Steve Reid - Motown session drummer, jazz musician - is a suitable partner. The first track, 'Hold down the rhythms, hold down the machines' features Four Tet tried and tested mixed with gentle, tentative percussion. The centre-piece of the second track is a rather obtuse flute sound-bite and almost breaks the fragile partnership that had developed in the opening twenty-minutes. It is also the least-direct of the three, lacking an underlying sense of purpose so pivotal to improvised pieces. The third and final track, 'We dream free', has a percussion lead and benefits as a result. As the title would suggest, this progression possesses a dream-like quality, although free of the idleness of the previous offering. It moves gently from rhythm to rhythm, inviting the listener to fill the emptiness vacated by its simplicity.
At times, however, the Exchange Session is too self-conscious and both musicians too self-aware. The electronics are often too artificial and too clumsy, leaving Steve Reid is left out of the loop. Moments of beauty contrast strongly with moments of isolation, in which neither musician is exchanging, rather colliding or missing each other completely. Patience is thus required and, if furnished with repreated listens and loud amplification, this record is more rewarding than it is fustrating.