Western musician goes to Africa to record original compositions with native artists. No, it’s not Damon Albarn making a followup to “Mali Music” (2002), a pop-infused stab at African tunes, but Bronx native and Swiss resident Steve Reid. The drummer, composer and bandleader — and former Black Panther — has traveled repeatedly to Africa throughout his career. His latest sojourn took him to Senegal’s capital, Dakar, to write and record “Daxaar,” an album that moves away from recent ventures into electronic music with Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet.
The 63-year-old, who has played with diverse luminaries such as James Brown, Miles Davis and Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, still collaborates here with programmer Hebden, but this time he mixes up-tempo percussion rhythms indigenous to Senegal into his music.
While these rhythms are alluring, at times “Daxaar” is barely more than the sum of its parts. You’re left wondering what some of these tracks would have sounded like if the players had only cut loose a little more. On the title track, for example, Youssou N’Dour’s guitarist Jimi Mbaye and regular Reid keyboardist Boris Netsvetaev confidently play their solos above the electronic rumble, but trumpeter Roger Ongolo sounds reluctant to interrupt the rhythm section. Ongolo does much better on “Dabronxxar,” carrying the song with Reid and creating the best ensemble piece on the album.
The album requires repeated listening to fully appreciate, but the funky melodic themes and dance-friendly rhythms leave a lasting impression, despite the sometimes incongruous and distracting electronic vibes that can make Reid’s drumming difficult to savor fully. It makes you wonder whether Reid really needs Hebden to further his career any more.