By Alicia James
Pizza is still pretty good, even when it’s bad. This is not the case with experimental jazz. Shows of this ilk frequently end up a dissonant cacophony of unwashed, self-important egos. Sensitivity, skill, and creativity—necessary attributes in any collaborative effort—drown in drunken delusions of referential grandeur. However, The Van Meyers has surpassed mortal obstacles to bring elevated sonic experiences to Corvallis’ music scene.
Doug Meyers, guitar, and Kevin Van Walk, percussion, comprise The Van Meyers’ nucleus. The pair met at a party in 2008 and were playing together in The Infallible Collective by 2009. However, the usual “creative differences,” a.k.a. lack of commitment, quickly eroded the band’s foundation. “I’m very serious, and always have been since I was a small kid, about making music,” said Van Walk.
Meyers added, “He was the first one that expressed that frustration and I left after that.”
Jazz traditionally features a bassist along with guitar, drums, and, more often than not, a horn section. Meyers and Van Walk took their first step away from traditional jazz when they decided to stay a guitar and percussion duo at their core. Neither of them had worked in such a capacity before, but they were enthusiastic about the potential. “Kevin kept mentioning ‘Hey! We can do this.’ We can make some unique sounds that haven’t been produced before,” Meyers said.
Since picking up steam in 2010, The Van Meyers has included as many as six musicians at a performance, which typically last for two to three hours without breaks. Who will play on any given night is largely determined by venue and whoever is free, instead of extensive planning and rehearsal. Chris Rorrer, cello and guitar, has been a constant collaborator for the past year and a half. “That’s the beauty of this music. You adapt in the moment,” said Rorrer. He continued, “It’s not a matter of weeks of rehearsals. You can just show up.”
Van Walk added, “The wonderful luxury of this area is available musicians who do different things.”
Venue and energy from the crowd drives The Van Meyers’ sound as well. Meyers mentioned the group’s first live show—a wedding at The Mill in Salem—as an example. “We never had any formal music written,” he said. “It was entirely our own compilations and we were creating a background.”
Van Walk chimed in, “That’s the significance of that show. We were tucked away in a corner of this big, 19th century warehouse, creating an ambient quality that people can tap into. They can choose to engage or not engage.”
While traditional jazz and improvisational predecessors such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis inform The Van Meyers’ sound, they do not adhere to any rulebook. Meyers stated, “I believe, historically, we gain information throughout our lives. Our projects are formed from previous…”
“Exposures,” Rorrer said as Meyers smiled in agreement.
“Those guys were pushing the envelope,” Van Walk added. He continued, “Miles Davis reinvented every eight years. Our connection to that is wanting to progress. As wonderful and uniquely American as it is, jazz has a tendency to stagnate back to 1964 when bebop was at its height.”
What then can someone expect at a Van Meyers show? As with life, anything is possible. However, they’ve earned their chops with a group resume that encompasses symphony orchestras to mainstream pop. You’ll just have to trust them.
(It’s worth it.)
The Van Meyers will play at Interzone, 1563 NW Monroe Street, on Saturday, Sept. 6 from 6 to 9 p.m. Preview The Van Meyers’ music at https://thevanmeyers.bandcamp.com/.