Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, The Knitting Factory, NYC- 3/11
When a band records a live album, the show in question carries additional weight.
The band feels the need to "step-up," as in many cases you only get one shot to record a live album. What comes out of you on that particular night is what will end up in people’s CD players. With that in mind, following some initial jitters, downstairs in
the cozy confines of the Old Office, Jacob Fred schooled the crowded room in its
style of jazz/funk/improv.
While this wasn’t the band’s first time playing here in NYC, they did seem a
little nervous at first, most likely due to the specter of recording. When they took the stage, the Old Office was filled with people
sitting in chairs, as was the Main Room the night before. However, by the
end of the first song, which was a little disjointed, the crowd seemed ready
to get moving. Brian Haas (Rhodes Piano) asked the crowd to remove the
chairs, enabling all the people stuck in the back of the room to come
forward. The minor change of allowing the crowd to stand spoke volumes
about the band. Clearly, they focused better and played better thereafter,
due mainly to the crowd’s enthusiasm, which had been stymied by the
placement of the chairs. It was this simple alteration that had quite an impact
on the band. They were now playing "off" the crowd whereas before they were
playing "for" the crowd, a big difference, at least in my mind.
When seeing Jacob Fred, it is easy to focus in on Brian since the keys are
at the forefront in this trio. However, the Reed Mathis on bass
and Jason Smart on drums are also gifted players. From my perspective,
it was quite apparent from the get-go that Jacob Fred is limited, not
by the musicians individual talents or even the communication between band
members, but only, in part by their equipment. Brian has only one main set of keys
and a little toy keyboard that, in my opinion, he played slightly too much.
The band adeptly makes up for the lack by switching the roles of two
members. For many songs, Brian would play bass on his keys while Reed would
play lead on his bass, thanks to some effects pedals. It was this approach
that provided many of the highlights of the evening. Reed’s lead bass
playing was just short of spectacular as he danced all over the bass playing
jazz guitar scales. And all along, Jason Smart played inventive drum parts
never fell into a groove for too long, keeping the other band members on
The band has constantly evoked comparisons to another piano-led jazz trio in
Medeski, Martin and Wood. And while comparing the two might be a little premature,
it’s quite a compliment for Jacob Fred to be mentioned in such circles. While the
band is still developing, they are extremely talented individuals who should have
no trouble putting the pieces together to make a cohesive whole.