Knoxville Progressive asked me to fill in this week, so I thought I’d turn y’all on to a drummer whose work I’ve come to dig on over the last few years – Steve Reid, a former Detroit-area musician who now resides in Europe. More on the flipside:
From the original liner notes from his 1976 album Nova:
Born Sun in Aquarius, New York City, Steve Reid began his professional career with the Charles Tyler Ensemble (with whom he’s working now) while still in his Twenty-first year. Upon graduation from Adelphi University, 1965 Steve toured West Africa for over a year. Thus early 1966 found Mr. Reid playing sambas in the cafes of Las Palmas, sitting in at the 1st International Festival of Negro Arts, as well as touring Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, appearing on numerous African radio and T.V. shows. Returning to New York Mr. Reid joined Sun Ra’s Science Myth Solar Arkestra until Uncle Sam called. As a conscientious objector he was sentenced to 4 years. Before being paroled after 2 years he taught a Black history course and music to his fellow inmates. New York Times’
John S. Wilson had just called Mr. Reid’s work “…remarkably adept…highly propulsive…tireless…inventive, extremely skillful…relentless attack that had its virtuoso qualities.” Early 1970 Steve Reid and Joe Rigby founded the Master Brotherhood, a collective group of third world musicians playing third world music at clubs, concerts and colleges throughout the N.Y.C. area. Economics prevailed and the group disbanded. Steve Reid then worked with such as Weldon Irving, Charles McPherson, Tyrone Washington, Frank Lowe (Arista 1015), Lester Bowie, Arthur Blythe, Cedar Walton, Junie Booth, John Ore, Ronnie Boykins, etc… Steve Reid then received the 1st of 4 grants from the National Endowment for the Arts for originating and teaching a free jazz drum clinic in the ghettos of his native N.Y.C. His teaching genius has been acclaimed in Billboard’s More About This Business of Music
and in the A.F. of L./C.I.O.’s International Musician
. The critics of the Big Apple have already began forecasting the talents of this dynamic drummer. Garry Giddens “…an exceptional drummer.” Peter Occhiogrosso “…shifting multitextural drive…an approach and appreciation for the more varied dynamics than many new music drummers.” Bob Palmer “…disciplined power…an extraordinary drummer.” Mr. Reid is currently finishing a drum techniques book. Today we are experiencing the Great Rhythmic Cycle. Steve Reid and the master musicians on this album are a vital part of this cycle.
NOVA is a positive force against a conspiracy of businessmen, large record company executives, radio program directors, club owners, critics, promoters who knowingly or unknowingly control the quality, style and quantity of the music that YOU hear. We at Mustevic Sound Records invite you to travel with us, FREE SPIRITS-UNKNOWN, to the temple of the SIXTH HOUSE in the land of THE LIONS OF JUDA. Let your soul taste the bittersweet nectar of A LONG TIME BLACK. MUSIC FOR THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE.
The album, Nova is a short (clocking in at barely a half hour) but powerful statement of the free spirit, that while recorded in the mid 1970s, is fairly reminiscent of some of the more beautiful Afro-inspired jazz albums of the late 1960s and early 1970s. His sax player blows like Pharoah Sanders in spots, and the influence of Coltrane, Sun Ra, Marion Brown, and others is evident.
According to the additional liner notes included in the reissued CD:
At the beginning of the 1970s he started his own label, Mustevic Sound, on which he released four LPs of which this is one. Self-produced, self-distributed, these records are classic examples of radical thought, both musical and ethical. The concepts of self-determination, spiritual consciousness and musical questioning had become central themes to Jazz musicians ever since the arrival of, on the one hand, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, and on the other, Martin Luther King and Malcom X. As a conscientious objector to Vietnam, Steve Reid spent two years in jail at the end of the sixties. Self-determination, both politically and musically, became a key factor for many radical Jazz musicians. Artists such as Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders have all had similar inspiration. Musical collectives such as The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Tribe (in Detroit), BAG (Black Artists Group) in St. Louis all arrived as means of making music with a different agenda. At the same time independent labels began to release this music; Nessa, Tribe, ESP, Strata-East. As a whole these labels tried to reflect the radical ideas connected with the music in the way the labels were run with many being self-distributed on a small scale. Steve Reid’s label, Mustevic Sound was one such label.
Steve’s musical life has taken many turns since this record was originally released in the mid-70s and is a snapshot of a period of time.
Steve is a living example of an artist who has kept true to their musical spirit. He has lived a life within music for over forty years and is still playing. Asked if his son plays an instrument, he replied that yes, he sometimes drums for some Hip-Hop group called NWA.
Suffice it to say, I’m searching for more releases by this cat. He stands as part of a diverse set of musicians who, while operating at the edges, blow away the stereotyped notion of jazz as a museum antique by playing vibrant, forward-thinking, challenging music that defies easy classification.
Steve Reid’s discography, and his official web site, for your reading, listening, and viewing pleasure. Some of his recordings are readily available on the SoulJazz Records’ Universal Sound imprint, including the aforementioned Nova, 1975’s Rhythmatism (also excellent) and his most recent release on Soul Jazz Records is called Spirit Walk (released 2005, which features Fourtet’s Kieran Hebden on electronics). Apparently Reid and Hebden have a collaborative effort coming out sometime this year. Spirit Walk, by the way, picks up where is 1970s releases left off, but with the addition of Hebden it’s clearly a product of the 21st century. The tunes are brand new, except for a re-recording of “Lions of Juda” which with Hebden on board sounds a good deal different than the original, and includes a spoken word piece called “Drum Story” which lays out his whole mindset regarding the importance of the drum, the pulse in the music. The liner notes include a really cool interview with Reid that give the reader some idea of where’s he’s been and what he’s up to, and his basic musical philosophy.