Bassist Reed Mathis is embarking on a new adventure. His album, Beathoven, just out September 30, features nine different trios tackling his rearrangements of Beethoven’s 3rd and 6th Symphonies. But the true nature of the project is the live band, with Jay Lane (Primus, Ratdog) on drums, Todd Stoops (RAQ, Kung Fu) on keys, and Clay Welch, a young guitarist who literally honed his craft while following Mathis’ old band Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. As Mathis explained before leaving the stage at set break, Beethoven’s music was conceived from improvisation and was heavily improvised on when Beethoven himself performed. Mathis felt it was time to take the music out of the museum, dust off the 200-year-old masterpieces, and get back to the true spirit of the original music. So he is taking it on the road for a couple of years with his new band, to resurrect the life of the long-dormant spirits. They stopped at the Iron Works in Buffalo during their short tour surrounding the release of the album.
Writing good songs has long been a crutch for many jambands. Many rely on playing lots of cover material, some exclusively so. Though if you are going to do that, you might as play material from one of the greatest composers of all time. Beethoven’s original music served as a mere blueprint, an inspiration, and a launching off point for what became deep dives into massive exploratory soundscapes. The first piece they played, the 3rd movement of the 3rd Symphony, aka “Rebirth,” clocks in just over five minutes on the album. Live, on this night, it ran 45 minutes. Their jams flowed from theme to theme, each taking on a life of it’s own before dissolving or sometimes abruptly shifting into the next. This constant movement kept the long-windedness feeling remarkably shorter, easily digested and invigorating.
The quartet played wonderfully off of each other, under the direction of Mathis, who belted out instruction now and again. Encouraging for more of the same when he heard something he liked, calling for a change when it was time to move on, etc… At one point, during the second composition, he almost brought the music to a stop as he took a survey of those on stage and all in attendance if they liked the last bit they had played. It was something new they were testing out. Moments like these and the freshness of the music to both the band and audience, gave the concert a feeling of an intimate dress rehearsal. It felt like we were in on the ground floor of something big.
The music wasn’t just electric, but eclectic as well. Each member brought a full arsenal to the table. Mathis’s bass could hold the groove or step up and become the lead in any number of unique sounds he could conjure from his numerous pedals. Lane’s drumming, highlighted often, was a constantly moving rumble rolling the music forward with a controlled chaos of bops booms and crashes. Stoops could fill in every empty space with swirls of organ or take the lead in mystifying runs through Beethoven melodies on a variety of keyboards. Welch’s guitar was the line that tied through it all, jawing directly with Mathis, dancing with Stoops’ plinks or crunching out rhythms along with Lane, all the while, never devolving into self-indulgent soloing. It was some high brow jamming, or as Mathis calls it, CDM (Classical Dance Music).
If you’re wondering what Ludwig himself would think of it all, you need look no further than his infamous trip to San Dimas in 1989. He would love it of course! And so did we.