Matt Chamberlain & Brian Haas – Live at Sam Bond’s Garage, Eugene Oregon
I always wanted to start out a piece with “it was a dark and stormy night,” but not only has Snoopy beat me to it, the storm was yet to come. It was windy, cold and rainy though and the streets were filled with leaves— anyone who knows Eugene knows about the trees and leaves in the Fall. Hundreds of trees and probably hundreds of thousands of leaves— hell, maybe millions, for all I know. Trudging through the growing accumulation was not fun, the shoes wet after a few steps and no way to distinguish bare sidewalk from puddles unless you paid attention. Which was nigh impossible unless you were willing to brave the wind and rain which was at times practically horizontal.
Luckily, Sam Bond’s Garage was only a two block walk from where I parked and I navigated it just fine, thank you. I had incentive. Inside there was not only warmth but excellent brews (they had a Filbert Ale which was way too nutty for a guy with my soft palate, so I settled on an Indie Red Ale which I thought fit me perfectly, the Indies being my absolute favorite group of musician). A cup of mac & cheese, please, and I was set.
I was an hour early (which turned out to be a little over an hour and a half because the band started late) and the stage was already set, Matt Chamberlain’s massive drum set and electronic gizmos to the left as you faced the stage, Brian Haas’s simple double-stacked keyboards with bass console to the right. I had never really considered the staging of drum set and lighting but this was something to behold— chrome dominating the picture and the (I think) black color, otherwise, amplifying the glitter. Nothing but black and grey on Haas’s side. A study in contrasts.
Not as much as the music, though. Before the show, Chamberlain stopped by for a minute and told me to expect either a really good or a really bad show and he was right. It was both good and bad. I personally believe you cannot play a show of improvised music with the intensity they did without hitting a few clunkers. Luckily, they were few and far-between.
Things started slow enough, Chamberlain laying loops of rhythm one atop another until the sound and beat was just right. Then the fun began. With basically a Latin/African bedrock, the sticks started flying, gaining strength as time passed until the loop was abandoned and a new pattern emerged. Throughout the set, it became a series of highs and lows, the lows segues to another dimension, some intricate and some simple yet all weaving the crossbreed of freeform jazz and electronics and the pounding insistence of drums, cymbals, rimshots, and more— at times just rhythm and at others a cacophony of sounds and ideas— yes, ideas. When the eyes locked the ideas morphed and the sound or rhythm changed, sometimes smoothly and sometimes quickly and drastically. The action helped, Chamberlain sweating as he sacrificed snares and toms and cymbals and Haas dancing in somewhat uncontrolled jerks as he alternately and sometimes simultaneously hammered his console and the keys.
The tour is supporting the release of their album, Prometheus Risen, a project which Chamberlain describes as “improvisation in the studio,” hinting that the crowd was getting the idea and not necessarily the album. Don’t confuse improvisation with freeform. Freeform goes anywhere and sometimes everywhere. Improvisation occasionally rides on a beat or groove. I guess you could say they played both but not simultaneously, gliding in and out of the various universes at will.
I could see some people not ready for the onslaught walking out, but to the bands credit, no one did. Most knew who they had come to see. Some stayed on a hunch. All were entertained, if only by Chamberlain’s occasional step onto the electronic tarmac. It was massive at times, a true wall of sound, and something to behold.
I was going to stay for the second set which was promised after a short break but the short turned into long and I had a long drive home. The wind was still blowing and the rain was colder and coming down harder. Perfect for the kind of music I had just experienced. I’m still not really sure what that was but I know I am glad I did not miss it.
My first contact with Chamberlain was through Dan Phelps, who used him on Jess Pillmore’s Reveal album. I followed him from there to Modular, an album which included both Chamberlain and Viktor Krauss. Trust me, these tracks are not even close to what I heard. Maybe if they had been dumped into an electronic blender and amplified many times over, but…
By the way, Chamberlain’s drums for “Atlanta” were recorded before anything else. Backwards but it really worked.