Electric Beethoven: The Ludwig Color Red Sessions
Take four A-list musicians, let them work as a unit, and unify them with the name Electric Beethoven. That’s what superb bass player Reed Mathis has done with this amazing quartet, electrifying audiences all across the country every time they hit the stage with their unique sound. They can do anything. For Mathis, this is familiar ground. He recorded Beathoven in 2016 with a host of heavy hitters.
Electric Beethoven are: Reed Mathis, bass, keyboards; Todd Stoops, electric organ, keyboards; Clay Welch, electric guitar; and Jay Raymer, drums, drum machine. Mathis produced all five tracks here, all recorded at Color Red Studios. Mike Tallman (Add Noise Collective) did the recording and tracking on all but “The Ninth.” Mastering was done at Doug Krebs Mastering.
They happen do Beethoven very well. Last year, EB released five separate singles interpreting the music of Ludwig von Beethoven. Some hew reasonably close to the originals, while others are delightfully modern adaptions. All five are great. All of these songs appear courtesy of Color Red Music. Let’s look at the five tracks, in the order they were released.
Electric Beethoven is four close friends who like to improvise together in the groove and enjoy inhabiting the songwriting of Beethoven. Our goal is to call back to Earth the ghosts that lie dormant in these old tunes. Kinda sounds like MMW but less avant & with prettier melodies. Closer to instrumental Beastie Boys. This song “The Fifth” turned out exactly as I’d hoped: funky, moody, stoney, and you wanna start it over every time you get to the end.
Bass, drums, and guitar introduce “The Fifth,” the melody stated by Welch on guitar. His clean, mellow guitar-picking throughout the series is gorgeous. Stoops jumps in on organ as Mathis and Raymer set the pace. Then Stoops’ electric piano dances as Welch continues the melody. After a quick false ending, they return to the head of the tune. The track was mixed by Jeff Franca
Electric Beethoven’s “For Elise” is a modern-day refresh of Beethoven’s solo piano classic “Für Elise” that gives the composition a whole new shine via a funky facelift and dance-floor makeover. The second new Electric Beethoven single released via Color Red shows no bounds as Reed Mathis and company investigate why Beethoven is the seed that first sprouted so much of today’s funk, jam, jazz, and live improvisational dance music. Josh Raymer’s J-Dilla-inspired drumming sets up a refracted groove that Mathis (bass), Todd Stoops (keys), Clay Welch (guitar) ride for the rest of the track. The timelessly haunting theme gives way to an improvised middle where the band triggers samples of their own, playing in an astonishing build-up of tension. This incantation slides back into the primary theme, reminding us that life is finite after all, even in times of transcendence and universal connections, and our journeys all have destinations. But getting there — from here — will make you want to “buy the ticket, take the ride,” and with every relisten you’ll experience a new adventure on the way to that shore.
“For Elise” begins at a deliberate pace with Stoops swirling on synths. Mathis crushes this one, and Raymer works overtime. Eddie Roberts mixed this one.
Imagine being propelled into the forces of the unknown only to be reeled back in by a grandiose epiphany. That’s the feeling “The Ninth” evokes out of its listeners. While fleshing out the arrangement in Todd Stoops’ basement, Reed Mathis observed that Beethoven’s iconic ninth symphony actually has three melodies that occur simultaneously. Stoops suggested that they should introduce the lesser known motifs first and then drop the famous “Ode to Joy” melody last, with the other two melodies steeping beneath it. That’s the “a-ha” moment where the audience unites — whether it’s the familiarity of playing the melody in grade school or nostalgia for a summer concert series or cinematic work, the vast majority of the world unities in the solidarity of “Ode to Joy” awakening memories. Taking it a step further, the lyrics are based on a Schiller poem that Beethoven enjoyed. After he re-worded it, its message became one of universal oneness where all races, religions, genders, and creeds are equal. This gem of a history lesson is restored with Mathis’ signature jazz-funk that embodies the pocket of The Meters with the harmonic approaches of Aphex Twin.
This is by far the funkiest of the five tracks, Mathis with some nasty, nasty bass. Stoops is on organ, and there is a great section with Welch and Mathis matching up on guitar and bass. Stoops introduces the “Ode to Joy” on organ near the end. The tracking engineer was Stephen ‘Eski’ Edwards (The Arithmetics), done on Tascam 388. It was mixed by Josh Fairman (SunSquabi).
“Moonlight Sonata” puts Reed Mathis and company’s dark and dreamy imprint on the classic Beethoven sonata. This version is dominated by Clay Welch’s slide guitar and Josh Raymer’s laid-back groove on top of a near-reggae skank throughout — it’s the kind of track you can toss on at 4 a.m. and enjoy the chilled-out ride for hours on end. Mathis notes that “Moonlight Sonata” is one of the most iconic chord progressions in history. It was the direct inspiration behind classics ranging from The Beatles’ “Because” to Radiohead’s “Exit Music For a Film” and countless other haunting melodies in modern times. The fourth track on the Color Red series will be followed up by additional releases and will culminate in a full-length album.
This slowed-down track is centered around the fine slide guitar work of Welch. The mixing engineer was Jeff Franca.
Listeners have often felt either stirred or inspired by Beethoven’s popular Seventh Symphony. To emulate the dynamic and visceral responses to this piece, Reed Mathis and Electric Beethoven create a blend of groovy lofi beats and ominous synthesized melodies with enthusiastic and uptempo percussion from Jason Hann of String Cheese Incident. The contrast of emotions plays out in the infamous final movement at an irrepressible pace that is known to bring pure joy to performers and listeners alike.
Finally, “The Seventh” displays a western theme, almost eerie, as Welch could have done this for a cowboy TV show. Toward the end, they shift to double-time with Raymer and Hand in charge. Eddie Roberts did the mixing on this track.
Here’s betting you’ll enjoy this “Fifth of Beethoven.”