Steve Reid Ensemble

Spirit Walk (Soul Jazz)

As the world turns away from melody and harmony to fully embrace post-hip-hop rhythmocentricism, jazz hasn't kept up, losing relevance like a hemophiliac rolling in broken glass. Drummer Steve Reid has returned to stop the bleeding, and he's brought producer Kieren Hebden (of bedroom electronica outfit Fourtet) with him.

Reid first made the scene in the late '60s, smacking the skins for a slew of Motown hitmakers. He self-released a masterpiece called Rhythmatism in 1975, fusing the skyrocketing melodies of free jazz to funk's dedication to groove, virtually defining the soul-jazz style. A few other albums followed, but he's mostly laid low since then, until last year's reissue of Rhythmatism, which sparked renewed interest in his driving, polyrhythmic stick work.

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With Spirit Walking, Reid once again bridges worlds — this time vintage and cutting-edge. From the ecstatic beauty of "Lugano" to the glitchy, organ-swabbed swagger of "Bridget" to the appropriately named, horn-lit "For Coltrane" to the Afrobeat blizzard of "Lions of Juda," Reid molds rhythm and melody into almost tangible objects of impeccable power. The band — consisting of tenor, bari, and bass saxes, plus keys and bass — is seamless, and Hebden spikes the punch with just the right amount of electronic deviance, emphasizing rather than overriding the music's sanguine, organic heart. The one misstep is "Drum Story," an overlong, spoken-word ode to the primacy of percussion. There's no need for didacticism here — Reid's music speaks for itself.

 
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