Album Review: Electric Beethoven – Hear No Evil

The musical compositions of Ludwig von Beethoven are among the most durable works in the history of music. Long before the pop music term hook came into use, Beethoven was writing his Fifth Symphony; its signature dit-dit-dit-dah motif served as the basis of Morse Code’s letter V, and the lick (if you will) is among the most recognizable in all of music.

One can still find Beethoven’s music in the repertoire of orchestras around the globe, and pop culture long ago seized upon the immediate character contained within much of his work. At the height of the disco era, Walter Murphy recast the Fifth’s hook into a massive hit single: “A Fifth of Beethoven” reached the #1 spot on the Billboard chart, eventually racking up two million units sold. The single’s appeal wasn’t limited to U.S. charts; it top-tenned in at least four other countries, and charted in more than ten countries.

And Beethoven’s work seems to lend itself to reinvention in other genres, as well. The latest example is the group Electric Beethoven. Led by multi-instrumentalist Reed Mathis, EB released its debut album Beathoven in 2016. The latest from Electric Beethoven is Hear No Evil. Working with jazz and EDM textures, EB makes improvisation-based music that uses Beethoven’s music as its foundation.

Perhaps unexpectedly, jazz and EDM seem to fuse well. The success of The Comet is Coming is proof of that. What Electric Beethoven does, however, leans more in a straight-ahead funk direction than does the Sun Ra-inspired British group.

Where Beathoven enlisted a stable of guest artists, Hear No Evil is a more self-contained Electric Beethoven project. The song titles more directly nod toward their origins: “The Fifth,” “Elise,” Ode to Joy” and so on. There’s a hypnotic, downtempo vibe to some of the tracks that places it closer to artists like Zero 7, Portishead and Massive Attack. And listeners may find hints of slow-jam ‘70s r&b in Electric Beethoven’s deep grooves.

Like classic jazz, the tunes often state a central riff or head, head off on a sonic excursion, and then return to Earth by restating the head. Sometimes – as with “The Fifth,” the arrangements are atmospheric. Other times (“Elise”), the feel is intimate and up-close, with plinking lead instruments sparring with trip-hop/breakbeat-styled drumming. “Ode to Joy” is deep funk, the kind of instrumental that will find favor with fans of Electric Beethoven labelmates The New Mastersounds.

One might not expect a reading of “Moonlight Sonata” to display a reggae vibe, but in the hands of Electric Beethoven, it does indeed, and it works. “The Seventh” tips its hat toward spaghetti western soundtracks. Hear No Evil is at once all over the pace and thematically cohesive.

Listeners predisposed toward remixes will find four such tracks on Hear No Evil; that’s all I have to say on that particular subject. Your mileage may vary. The one album track to feature a guest artist is “New Path,” and Karl Denson’s soulful sax sounds on the cut are, as always, welcome and note-perfect.