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New Groove

Published: 2001/08/20
by Chris Gardner

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is from Tulsa,
Oklahoma, but it doesn’t seem to hold them back. While their hometown has
never been known as a breeding ground for exploratory jazz, this trio is
single-handedly reworking the city’s reputation. The organ/bass/drums
line-up is familiar, but the sound that Brian Haas, Reed Mathis, and Richard
Haas coax out of their instruments are anything but. They push
incessantly, constantly breaking new ground. The result is more spontaneous
composition than mere jam. Every night, the band takes their songs, dashes
them to pieces like pinatas, and gleefully races about patching things back
together. It is, as one bug-eyed spectator put it, "traumatic," or as
Brian himself put it, "It should shatter your nervous system." JFJO is not
for the faint of heart – if you like your jazz clean and compartmentalized,
call a Marsalis.
Brian and Reed began playing together in the Spring of 1994, and the band
has seen a string of diverse line-ups since, building to a sextet before
settling back into a trio. With the recent addition of Brian’s brother
Richard on the skins, Reed says, "This is my favorite incarnation ever." It
is easy to see why. There is a palpable sense of freedom in their music,
and they seem to converse on telepathic frequencies that allow them to burst
back into a theme unannounced at the drop of a hat. As Brian puts it,
"There’s no ego on stage, which is where we were headed from the very
beginning."
As with many jambands, the framework of the song serves as a launching pad
for the jam, but JFJO ranges further afield than the vast majority. This is
"out" music, and they succeed here where most others fail. The trick is in
seeming to fall apart without actually doing so. The trio launches pell
mell into drastic improvisations and challenges the audience to stay apace.
And if you can kick your head into high gear and keep up, there is a thread
to the improvisation that is at once cogent and completely beyond
prediction.
Their tone is intrepid by necessity. Brian’s Rhodes is bombastic, and he
attacks it in head-bobbing fits and starts. When not shaking the foundations
on the low end, Mathis’ applies a pitch-shifter to his bass that produces a
guitar-like effect that nearly mimics a steel drum at times. All the while, Richard Haas slaps out jazzy beats laced with hints of funk and hip-hop,
pressing and pushing the exploration along.
Invariably, someone in the crowd will refer to the vibe as "spaced-out" or
"other-worldly". The description is not far from the mark, but the open
feel evolves from the style of play rather than the tone of voice. Brian
and Reed both play as if they are hot on the tail of elusive melodies. They
give chase through alleys and sidestreets, swerving wildly but always
pressing forward. When they finally stop to catch their breath, they are
often so far from the original theme, that outer space seems the only
playground vast enough to contain them.
This is music with a higher purpose, and it speaks volumes without saying a
word. "Our job as musicians is to get spiritually open and let the universe
flow through," says Haas. "A live show is like a worship service with the
audience and the musicians interacting and responding on an equal level."
Every show is forced participation. The music swallows you whole and takes
you along for the ride. This is not the kind of band you can ignore as you
chit-chat idly, everyone in the room is engaged in the present experience,
like it or not. It is the band’s ability to elevate the unified crowd that
creates the sense of community and purpose. "It is like every night we step
into the sweat lodge, detox, and bring the crowd with us."
With recent barn-burners like their packed set at the Gathering of the Vibes
and a quartet of highly-praised High Sierra performances that saw them
joined by the likes of Karl Denson and Jessica Lurie, their mesage is
clearly gaining converts. In concert, the band constantly thanks the
audience, "for your ears," and swears, "you guys are making this music as
much as we are." Download some
tunes (especially the brand new
"Grub Ridge Stomp" and the heart-rending "Vernal Equinox"), check the band’s
tour dates, and
join the congregation.

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