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Published: 2012/04/25
by Wayan Zoey

Floratone
Floratone II

Floratone Floratone II (Savoy Jazz)
Matt Chamberlain Company 23 (Self released)

Matt Chamberlain may be the most under-appreciated “busiest man in showbiz.” His drumming has graced chart topping albums from a incredibly diverse range of musicians, everyone from Tori Amos and Fiona Apple to The Wallflowers and David Bowie, and his beats frequently enter the modern drummer’s lexicon from the moment they’re first introduced (see: Apple’s “Sleep To Dream” or the live music video version of Pearl Jam’s “Alive”). In all his rhythmic ubiquity though, he rarely has the opportunity to “feature” himself on a recording. That said, this month Chamberlain has 2 releases coming from his own bands, Floratone (with jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and producers Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine) and his current solo project, Company 23.

Floratone is already a somewhat established entity, having released their debut album in 2007, however the new Floratone II is a slight departure from the first self-titled record. While the ethereal landscapes that comprised the majority of the first album are still present, they’re augmented by a much greater emphasis on Chamberlain’s rhythms. As with the first album, the music was created by Frisell and Chamberlain recording duo jams and passing those jams on to Martine and Townsend to be reconstructed in to more specific compositions. On this occasion though, rather than relying solely on Frisell’s contributions to construct harmonies and melodies, the producers assembled some portions around tonalities implied by Chamberlain’s drum lines, sending their ideas back to Chamberlain and Frisell to flesh out the specific harmonies. The result is a more immediately engaging effort than their debut, with the distinct rhythms drawing the listener in to be enveloped by Frisell’s thick harmonies and sonic manipulations.

Given the larger spotlight that Floratone II shines on Chamberlain’s abilities, Company 23 serves as a fascinating companion piece, much in the same vein as comparing Thom Yorke’s The Eraser to Radiohead’s Hail To The Thief. For those unfamiliar with Chamberlain’s long-running, semi-retired quartet Critters Buggin (which also features jamband mainstays Skerik and Mike Dillon), Company 23 serves as a clear demonstration of Chamberlain’s musical sensibilities, and gives the listener obvious clues as to his contributions to other musicians’ projects. Make no mistake, Company 23 is a significantly heavier musical assault that Floratone, but it also suggests that Chamberlain hears music in much the same manner as his collaborators, just perhaps with a bit more distortion. Contributions from some guitar-playing friends notwithstanding, Company 23 is pretty much all Chamberlain, with the composition and recording process basically involving him composing harmonic ideas on a laptop, then playing live drums along to those sequences. The music essentially comes out sounding like Critters Buggin, sans Skerik’s saxophonics, with a bit more of a cohesive mood tying all the elements together.

Across both albums, Chamberlain displays the kind of rhythmic mastery that justifies his in-demand status as a session drummer. The beats are thick and compelling, without ever crossing over to showboating. While these albums will likely do little to increase Chamberlain’s stature amongst casual music listeners, they are both instrumental-music gems, and will undoubtedly satisfy the appetites of the world’s drum nerds and Critters fans.

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