Last month when chatting up an advance, streamed track of keyboardist Brian Haas and drummer Matt Chamberlain’s upcoming collaboration Frames, I made kind of a critic’s equivalent of a movie trailer about the album itself, summarizing it as “a smart utilization of the strengths of both participants: Haas’ informed, highly nuanced composing and Chamberlain’s acumen of bringing something much more to a song than just a beat.” With that album’s release finally imminent, it’s time to say a little more about Frames.
Haas, as mentioned before, founded the highly creative, highly underrated outlier jazz outfit Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Matt Chamberlain has been involved in numerous significant projects of his own both in and out of jazz, but I tend to think of him most definitively as the drummer of the Bill Frisell-led supergroup Floratone. Though both of these cats are polished improvisers, the eleven tunes Haas brought to the Frames project are through-composed pieces. Drawing from inspirations as diverse as Fats Waller , James Blake and Steve Reich, Haas employs a mostly minimalist approach very subtly accentuated by synth washes and in a roundabout way, ends up sounding something similar to Esbjörn Svensson Trio, only more measured.
There isn’t a wasted second on these tracks, with only three of them lingering past three minutes and none of them reaching the 4:30 mark. On the other hand, this is unofficially a suite of songs, connected by a theme of a fictional human life going through its cycles.
Frames comprises of a series of moods expressed fragments at a time, oftentimes taking on a reflective vibe. “Birth” is gentle with a lingering abrasiveness that erupts with an unexpected exclamation point right at the end when Chamberlain opens up on his drum kit. The peacefulness coexisting with the uneasiness emerges again on “Prism,” which ebbs and flows like the tide. Contrapuntal patterns sprinkled throughout break up the soft tempos, first starting at the end of “Birth” and dominating “Of Many, One,” and “Drive,” where the piano and drums are tightly woven together in a rapidly running melody.
Though improvisation doesn’t really exist here, unpredictability is hardly banished. “Death: An Observation” is serious-minded as the tittle suggests, but sprinkled with pauses and briefly picks up steam, nearly moving off into another motif. “Open Window” has a simple strain but Chamberlain’s thoughtfully engineered beat with the slight hitch to it, similar to that on “Prism,” attracts all the attention. That advance stream, “An Empty House,” may contain the most surprises of them all.
Only on the closing number “From Nothing, Infinite” do we really get anything remindful of jazz due to Haas’ ghostly, spare delivery with Chamberlain on brushes. Even then, it’s jazz in feeling more than in structure.
Ultimately, Frames is about discreet emotions and the creation/maneuvering of textures to portray those emotions. That makes the music a little hard to classify, but being able to compose and render music with depth and subtle sophistication that can’t be easily pigeonholed has to qualify as a successful venture for Brian Haas and Matt Chamberlain.