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Four Tet - Live at Funkhaus Berlin, 10th May 2018 Music Album Reviews

On what is only his second official live album in his 20-year career, the celebrated electronic producer demonstrates his range—and his mastery of tension and release.

Is there a producer more generous than Four Tet? While Kieran Hebden kept up a steady flow of records through much of the 2000s (not to mention a number of collaborative releases with the late jazz drummer Steve Reid), since rebooting his own Text Records imprint in 2007, he’s rewarded his fans with an abundance of music. He uploaded some of his earliest productions as a 38-minute deep dive, cobbled together nearly two decades of one-offs into a handy compendium, then made another for his other handle, Percussions. Beyond his own productions, Hebden openly shares his wide-roving tastes, regularly digging into his collection for an NTS Radio residency, not to mention nearing a thousand songs on his Spotify playlist.

So nonchalantly upping the 17-track Live at Funkhaus Berlin, 10th May 2018 in late August represents a continuation of his low-key, generous ways, despite the fact that up until that point, his only previous official live album was a Copenhagen set Domino released on CDR back in 2004. That particular show found him pushing his Rounds material to the absolute limit as he unlocked the ways his laptop could become an improvising instrument in its own right—a path he would explore on albums like Everything Ecstatic and alongside Reid. In comparison, Funkhaus doesn’t rework his tracks extensively so much as show how his last four albums’ worth of explorations—from Bollywood to trip-hop, new age to 2-step anthem—can all tidily hang together.

The nearly two-hour show primarily draws from his post-Domino catalog (though he dusts off a classic from Rounds), taking two tracks apiece from Pink and Beautiful Rewind and pulling primarily from last year’s New Energy. Four Tet remains one of the rare electronic producers who thrives on dismantling his music before a sold-out crowd, juggling and rejiggering the components into something new, so it’s not quite as breathtaking to hear him stay well within the confines of the heady “Planet,” which opens the show. Nudging elements of the original in the mix rather than exploding the space around it, he also keeps “Parallel Jalebi” pretty much as is, lingering amid the breathless R&B ululations and skittering rhythms more or less as we recall them.

Some 20 years into his career as a live artist—and more recently as an in-demand DJ—Hebden has mastered tension and release, deftly moving between peaks and comedowns in his show. He also knows when to luxuriate in a beat, as on an expanded take on New Energy highlight “Two Thousand and Seventeen,” the thrumming strings and downtempo beat so laid-back as to become narcotic. While the tempo picks up from there, the set also enters into a bit of a lull: The details that distinguish “Ocoras” and “Lush” on record blur together live, at least until the chopped pirate-radio shouts and tumbling snares of “Kool FM” finally break through, one of the high-energy breakouts of the show.

Hebden speeds up those jungle breaks and shoves them right into the giddy flickers of Rounds crowd favorite “Spirit Fingers,” which dissolves far too soon, at the four-minute mark, into “LA Trance.” It’s on this somewhat inconspicuous New Energy track that Hebden unearths the most promising new terrain: Its ripples are contemplative and expansive, yet it builds up to a pulsing peak. Amid the already extended “Morning Side,” Hebden drops in some haywire energy at the midway point, finding dubby new spots to burrow into. No matter the dizzying detours he takes, he always winds his way back to the sample of Lata Mangeshkar, the legendary Indian playback singer whose haunting voice buttresses the track. It’s a fitting conclusion for the show, overshadowing the dulcet encore “Daughter” and some four minutes of clapping. It’s a bountiful offering for fans, even if the set ultimately offers few true surprises.

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