It’s fair to describe Reed Mathis as a musical genius. Since his departure from Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey he has been the quintessential sideman working in various musical outfits including the Billy and The Kids, The Golden Gate Wingmen and Tea Leaf Green. He’s done it all and now he is doing something utterly unique. For many years now Reed has harbored a desire to bring Beethoven to the modern music scene. With the help of a few friends that is exactly what he had done. The album is Beathoven and it features Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3” and “Symphony No. 6” in their totality. On the album Reed called on friends from Phish, Pearl Jam, Galactic, The Greyboy Allstars, as well as Marco Benevento and Joe Russo to lend a hand. For his touring group, Mathis recruited Jay Lane on drums, Todd Stoops on keys, and Clay Welch on guitar. Instead of a conductor’s wand Mathis wields a bass, which seems to work in much the same manner. Through sight and vocal cues, he and his band improvise around symphonies written in the early 1800’s.
These highly structured compositions lose the rigor of Beethoven and become modern danceable improvisations through the mind and art of Mathis and company. The compositional elements remain true while injections of modernity come in the form of a Led Zeppelin lick or a familiar transition. Reed has labeled all this CDM or Classical Dance Music, which seems appropriate. While the songs on the album remained tighter in scope there seemed to be nothing holding the band back in a live environment. The songs stretched and soared to their full potential. The two-hour set was comprised of four songs total.
On this otherwise quiet Monday night in Fort Collins, the star-studded cast certainly delivered. It was like a music lesson on improvisation for everyone in the room. Each song was a journey. They opened with “Rain Dance” which featured some unbelievable drumming from Mr. Lane. The individual performances of the songs are hard to quantify given the musical territory covered. “Funeral March” had an introduction akin to Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” but quickly gave way to soaring melodies and sparse solos. Just before the band launched into the thirty-minute version of “Shepherd’s Song” Reed informed us, “We’re going to play it completely different from the record.” And I think that was ultimately his goal not only through the recording process, but also in the live performances. While Beethoven is the underlying thread the real theme of this performance was inventiveness. Musical adlibbing took the front seat. Each individual song was comprised of monumental peaks and valleys, ebb and flow, dark and light all mingled together to create a musical complexity that is truly extraordinary. They closed with an epic 40-minute rendition of “Rebirth” which contained a large section of “Scene By the River” as well. The performance was fluid and the musicianship was top notch. They left the stage without an encore despite calls from the crowd. That made sense given the length of the four songs played. I truly hope this project continues to tour and perform live. The album is an amazing piece of art but the live performances of Electric Beethoven are out of this world.