Steve Reid
Passion In Paradise






I have presented many works of the Space-Age, Easy Listening, Surf Rock, symphonic and Latin genres and linked all of them to the Exotica realm, usually for better or, yes, quite often for worse. Sometimes only one or two tracks on an album were specifically exotic, while the remaining material depicted concrete jungles rather than the green ones, but still, with a bit of good will, I was not too far off on my open-minded explorations. Thanks to my review of New York-born percussionist and arranger Steve Reid's (1944–2010) work Passion In Paradise from 1999, AmbientExotica might have jumped the shark. Pity! Of course, I sincerely hope this is not the case, but it is a potential assertion I have to face.


Released on the Politur label, Passion In Paradise is a synth-heavy New Age-evoking Post-Bebop work of ten tracks that is only very marginally related to the Exotica genre… were it not for the artist's Jazz roots and an interesting twist: highly exotic – no, esoteric – percussion instruments. At least that is what the liner notes state, but the actual compositions lack these colorful instruments and only feature claves, bongos and wind chimes, if ever. Oscillating between the keyboard mélanges of Fourplay and the Pat Metheny Group, Passion In Paradise is a collaborative effort with a large ensemble of musicians involved, among them pianist Brian Culbertson, trumpeter Greg Adams, saxophonist Paul Taylor and keyboarders Tim Redfield and Kim Hansen, the latter on a Fender Rhodes. Steve Reid himself does not drum his way through the arrangements rather than programming a certain section which is then repeated, an approach deemed audacious by devoted Jazz listeners, but mentioned here to give a brief outlook of the album's electronic traits.


have not solely chosen Passion In Paradise because of its auspicious title, but due to Steve Reid's background, the many people involved, the auroral promise of exotic percussion and the thematic scope met by the song titles and the front artwork. I have my good reasons. They are undermined by the aural result of Reid's CD, at least in a whopping nine out of ten instances. Read on for a dedicatedly different review. Whenever you feel the need to shake your head, rest assured that I did so as well, if that is any consolation.


You know what they say about ethereal-atmospheric albums: the artist starts with a prelude of bolstered synth washes and works his way up to New Age ingredients. This is exactly what happens in the eponymous opener, albeit in compressed form. A few seconds into the wraithlike dreaminess, a potentially conflicting gallimaufry is concocted, its ingredients being funky wah wah guitars, a pumping 4/4 bassline, silky saxophones, iridescent chimes, classic piano spirals and luminescent synth pads. The textures are more important than the melodies… and, unfortunately, the percussion. One expects it to shine due to Reid's background as a skilled drummer. But no, these textures are glaringly amiss in this snugly dreamscape. Laura's Eyes improves the alienating situation somewhat – for Exotica fans at least – by kicking off with a short introduction of field recordings and the warped glissando of an engine-like keyboard with a Space-Age timbre. This is a downtempo song with space flutes, Roland bass drums and saxophone waves, and at least some of the interwoven organ textures inherit that warmhearted spirit in adjacency to the frostiness of the wind chimes. The programming of the drums is noticeable, there is not one surprising bit of improvisation noticeable. But mind you, the paradisiac wideness succeeds, this tune is not that bad at all!


While One Heart moves to Dub-infused Lovers Rock climes and builds a scintillating pulse-laden sparkle scenery that transfigures the romantic notions of a futuristic beach, Lovers Cove features Reed's lyricless doo-doo vocals (ah, a Space-Age remnant!), a sleazy saxophone and – no kidding – enormously euphonious synth eruptions and aqueously clicking claves. Sweeping synths round off an utterly clichéd track, but by now even I have adjusted to these layers, and so Kisses In The Wind does not come as a surprise either and succeeds with glitzy textures, stereo-panned star dust stabs and a languorous Balearic guitar melody. That this is a rather upbeat tune with catchy melodies – a first on the album – makes it stand out.


It is Midnight Rendezvous that crosses the specific line Steve Reid watched closely in each other track: the line of stereotyped pornography allusions, at least in the first few moments. The easygoing sax melody, the piano sprinkles and the sizzling breezes are dull ingredients, but it is the sleazy double entendre bassline that makes this one a bummer. Later on, the polyphonous sequences work much better and even allow the conga aorta to shimmer through. The following Comfort Zone relies on a clave-infused abyssal city strolling rhythm that finally makes room for layers of exotic bongo percussion. The remaining ingredients are decidedly electronic: galactic winds, electric pianos and keyboard prowess round off the sunset-colored carefreeness.


While Martini Beach marries Latinized horn sections in the veins of Yavaz's Sea Of Cortez (1997) with syrupy Flamenco guitars and nice percussion sections, the great Bahia Breeze kicks off with a mysterious maracas-fueled field recording of a nocturnal jungle. Rhythm maracas, plinking triangles, shedloads of bongos and congas plus distant Chinese gongs make this more of a seriously splendid vignette rather than a conventionally structured ditty. This emerald-green gem towers above the blandness, and I would have wished for Steve Reid to come up with many more of such tunes. This one is worth any Exotica fan's while. The final Flowers In The Snow finds vocalist Liz Constantine in a sunset duet with Steve Oliver. Sugar-coated guitars, soft shakers, echoey claves and downtempo rhythms make this the power ballad of an album that can be largely neglected by the dedicated Exotica afficionado.


If vintage Exotica did not exist, I suppose one could denominate Steve Reid's Passion In Paradise as a potentially tasty grail, if not a holy one. Its promised prospect is not entirely unknown to fans of the genre: romantic beaches, interspersed field recordings, a bongo here with a following conga there, and off we go into paradise. If the listener does not mind the strong focus on synthesizers and vigorous basslines, Reid's work could turn out to revitalize the post-Exotica scene. This is sadly not the case. The ingredients sound promising on their own, but Reid places them in partially funky and overly hypnotic Pop structures, freeing these from the jazzy traces that usually are important factors of the genre. Reid is a skilled arranger with an ear for silky frequencies and surfaces which he then turns to streamlined patterns, fair enough, but I for one would have loved Reid turning his attention to real soundscapes such as the very great mamba-green Bahia Breeze which finally unleashes the much needed field recording and the percussion layers without any concentration on catchy melodies.


All my words do not help it, Passion In Padise is no Exotica album. It nonetheless shares an astonishing amount of similarities with real works of the genre, even its electronic focus is not entirely unknown to neo-Exotica bands such as Clouseaux, The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Narco Lounge Combo and Don Tiki. Another observation follows this impression, namely the tendency that this album should not be torn apart. A single track off it in an Exotica playlist destroys both the magic of that list and Steve Reid's album. It unfolds that certain magic over the course of its runtime that even haters of New Age or synthesizers in Jazz music cannot entirely deny. The sound carpets are wide and encapsulate a great plasticity. The melodies are accessible yet forgettable and less catchy. All in all, Steve Reid's depiction of paradise is a strange one, but Bahia Breeze is the famous exception of the rule and remarkably great. 


Exotica Review 189: Steve Reid – Passion In Paradise (1999). Originally published on Mar. 2, 2013 at