Winterwood – Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
And then there was one. As of press time, the pianist and keyboardist Brian Haas is the lone original member of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, now in its 15th year as a band. Things have been rocky lately: in 2007, longtime drummer Jason Smart (2001-2007) left and, late last year, founding bassist Reed Mathis took off, presumably to focus on his other engagements (Tea Leaf Green, Marco Benevento Trio).
But this is isn’t bad news, necessarily. JFJO will carry on as a quartet now, retaining the still-new drummer Josh Raymer (he stepped in for Smart in 2007) and adding the double bassist Matt Hayes (is that a first for JFJO?!), as well as guitarist and lap steel player Chris Combs (who has been touring with the group since 2008).
But if you’d like one last taste of what Haas and Mathis have been up to for the last decade-and-a-half, you got it. For free. A la Radiohead, JFJO are giving away Winterwood, their last album with Mathis, as a free download on their website. And wouldn’t you know it: it’s one of their best albums.
And it’s refreshing, too, after last year’s well-meaning, but overproduced Lil’ Tae Rides Again. Here, as usual, the group is a living, breathing, rock/jazz improv monster, just waiting for the right moment to pounce on your ears. And with a mostly fresh (to the studio, anyway) batch of compositions and arrangements, the Haas/Mathis partnership goes out on top (though if the story of Phish has taught us anything)
The highlights are many, but look out for a pair of smartly reimagined jazz tunes: Louis Armstrong’s “Song of the Vipers” and Duke Ellington’s “Oklahoma Stomp.” “Vipers” showcases, among other things, Mathis’ banjo chops, and “Stomp” is as tight and funky as it gets, due in no small part to Raymer’s enthusiastic performance. “Dove’s Army of Love” is a bouncy, major key romp through the thickets of Haas’ piano and keyboards, and “Bumper Crop of Strange” is an entrancing drum and bass number featuring Mathis on electric guitar. I would download this is if I were you.