Walking With Giants – Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
Hyena Records 9325
Give this band a chapter in a book that's being written while many commentators are looking the other way: Jamband Jazz. Like MMW and The Bad Plus, to name two fellow piano trios, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey are neither as reverent as tradionalists nor as aggressively skewed as the Zorn crowd. Thus, welcome to jambands.com.
One veteran jazz drummer, commenting about The Bad Plus in Down Beat recently, complained that they and too many other bands have reached prominence without the proper jazz apprenticeship. That I-had-to-eat-my-vegetables-and-these-guys-got-to-skip-to-dessert attitude resembles the harsh reception that too much jazz originality has received. It’s true, though, that if Jacob Fred, like The Bad Plus, put out an album of standards, I might put it lower on the buying priority list than something from the latest Down Beat poll winners.
Give these bands credit, though, for showing that jazz can still be the template for a new musical statement. Jacob Fred have less punk than The Bad Plus and less funk than MMW, but they compensate with bold compositions. There's contrast, too, as Brian Haas's Monk-ish constructions (titles like "Daily Wheatgrass Shots" and "Perfect Wife's Flannel PJs" sum up his sensibility about as well as "Straight No Chaser" or "Epistrophy" did Monk's) sit alongside Reed Mathis's off-kilter ballads. Mathis's whiny arco is an acquired taste, but it achieves a keening sweetness on cuts such as "The Arrival" and "Hover."
By staying alive on the rock club circuit, too, the Jamband Jazz contingent has the advantage of being able to develop interplay that the one-shot-oriented traditionalist world seldom can anymore. Jacob Fred show off their chops by building lengthy improvs from simple motives on the two lengthiest cuts, the title track and "Calm Before The Storm." Drummer Jason Smart is rather more workmanlike than David King or Billy Martin, but bounces ably off Haas on the uptempo numbers and deploys the brushes smoothly behind Mathis's statements.
Have Jacob Fred or the other Jamband Jazz giants produced much that will be discussed thirty years from now? Perhaps not. However, let's remember that many of the greats were on the scene for a decade or more before they produced their defining works, and be grateful that there are some folks working the circuit and stating something new in this idiom.