Kieran Hebden, Steve Reid and Mats Gustafsson all have amassed deep and varied catalogs. As Four Tet, Hebden draws deeply from the worlds of jazz, electronica and experimental rock. And his five-year musical partnership with Reid — who, before dying last year, had backed the likes of Miles Davis and James Brown — was a product of the same scholarship. Their collaborations were promising (and Reid wasn't too proud to compare it to the partnership of Miles Davis and John Coltrane). But on this recording — an 83-minute set recorded live in London at free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman's 2009 Meltdown Festival — the X-factor is saxophonist Gustafsson, who has worked with esteemed avant-gardists like Peter Brötzmann and Sonic Youth.
On "Lyman Place," for example, Gustafsson honks and squeals impassioned punctuations over the fluid electronic funk Hebden and Reid provide as foundation. Here, the trio builds momentum like a jet hurtling down a runway, Gustafsson's brash interjections whipping his bandmates into increasingly thrilling crescendos.
But Gustafsson's pyrotechnics never overwhelm the trio. Hebden's electronic glow levels the proceedings, adding a sense of structure. And as an anchor between Gustaffson's free-form impulse and Hebden's more structured one, Reid draws on his experiences in jazz and pop for a noteworthy late-career statement. For proof, look no further than the driving post-rock of "25th Street." Live At The South Bank succeeds because of its ability to bridge the structure of electronic pop and post-rock with improvisational jazz and noise — without feeling like a rote exercise.