Chase discovers himself in experimental ‘Session’

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First Posted: 3/24/2014

Music is a universal language, and it can be found in everyday life. It can provide healing as a rehabilitation mechanism or it can simply boost a sour mood. For Brooklyn drummer Brian Chase, it’s a passion that doesn’t stop when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs finish touring.

Whether it’s his solo project, Drums & Drones, or a duo with pianist Thollem McDonas, Chase is constantly playing music and writing new material during his downtime.

However, it is his work with McDonas in “Dub Narcotic Session” that shows his widest musical range. The sounds on the album can initially come as a shock to listeners – it is experimental and improvised, but largely thematic. It is definitely not the alternative or indie vibe heard in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but for Chase, it isn’t out of the ordinary.

“Growing up, I would listen to and play jazz, blues, classical, grunge, and punk. It continued through college at the Oberlin Conservatory, where I studied jazz but would also play punk rock house parties and work with classical composers and electronic musicians,” he explained.

It wasn’t until his second year of college that Chase chose to dive into the improv/experimental scene. He remembers being introduced to the music of John Zorn, which was what fully pushed him into it. “Zorn has created new genres of music, breaking all of the rules in the pursuit and spirit of new discovery,” he noted.

He also cites his drum hero Susie Ibarra, who combined the sophistication and intelligence of jazz with the energy and attitude of punk rock, along with other leading figures in the “Downtown” New York experimental scene, as the spark of his interest.

“I was really drawn to improvisation, that spontaneous act of composition, when the musician/performer is at the edge of his/her own creative process, not knowing what’s coming next yet processing all of the information that has led up to that point to make informed and enlightened decisions,” Chase said.

Chase has been a part of two albums under Thollem/Chase: “The Whistling Joy Jumpers” and “Dub Narcotic Session,” which will soon be released. They were given only two days to record, immersing themselves solely into playing and listening.

Creating an experimental record that relies mostly on improvisation and problem solving isn’t any different than recording an alternative album, he believes.

“Making a record, an album is a process. It is a process of discovery. We are trying to tap into and bring forth new parts of ourselves that have yet to be brought to the surface. The music is the evidence,” Chase revealed about the recording process.

“It’s almost like it’s waiting for you on the other side, but before you can claim it, you have to go through the process. It’s a process of expression, and with good music it is to be good expression and expression that expresses positively qualities. And in this process there is usually some transformation or overcoming that has to happen, ways in which we are confronted with ourselves and with those around us. It is that confrontation and transformation which I feel results in a good record.”

Chase will be embarking on an East Coast tour in support of “Dub Narcotic Session,” starting in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday, March 26 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral and ending in Brooklyn; this is only his second “free jazz” tour, and it will be his first in the States. In Wilkes-Barre, Thollem/Chase will be joined by local pianist Ron Stabinsky and drummer Bob Ventrello, both experimental artists in their own right.

Chase urges his listeners to be open to the record’s thematic improvisation. “I would want listeners to feel the mixture of ‘representation’ and ‘abstraction,’ to borrow terms from the visual art world,” he said, feeling pride in the work he has accomplished.