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Published: 2003/04/09
by Jesse Jarnow

RANA, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Mercury Lounge- 4/3

NYC ROLL-TOP: The Shape of Hippie Jazz To Come
All music has a natural medium, and part of what it means to be in a band is
to both locate that medium and create a relationship with it. The 45-minute
vinyl LP was the perfect channel for Sgt. Pepper (or was Sgt.
Pepper the perfect product for the LP?), multiple day ceremonies are the
fluid form for Balinese gamelan music, the Internet is the right conduit for
archival recordings of Phish’s live performances. Likewise, RANA and the
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey – two almost wholly different outfits – might have
found their own in New York City lately: weekly residencies. Jacob Fred will
be at the Mercury Lounge each Wednesday in April (as well as Harper’s Ferry
in Boston every Tuesday), and RANA will jump between the Mercury and the
TriBeCa Rock Club, before setting adrift for the second installment of the
RANA boat on May 9th.
Actually, the proper medium for RANA, at this point in time, might be vinyl
as well. Two of their newer songs – Scott Metzger’s ‘Comin’ Correct’ and
Matt Durant’s ‘Buy, Sell, or Break’ – deserve to be a double A-side single.
Metzger’s is sugar laced with razorblades, the chorus – ‘I’m comin’,
correct’ – across between a command and a question. ‘Buy, Sell, or Break’ is
simply ‘whooooooooa’ingly good. RANA’s set was comprised, in the main, of
compact numbers. On the surface, RANA seem very much like a rock band, but
they’ve got sprawl in their veins.
The middle of their set featured a stretch of mid-tempo tunes – ‘Eggo’,
‘Remember My Address’, ‘Some Kind of Girl’, and ‘Backstabbing World’ – that
are almost right leisurely. This casts a different shadow on the band’s
attempts at writing bundled numbers like the kind they opened and closed
with. Inside the set, the slower songs dragged. It wasn’t that the band was
jamming for particularly long chunks, or anything, but it’s as if they were
continuing themes from song-to-song. ‘Remember My Address’ and ‘Some Kind of
Girl’ didn’t seem autonomous from each other. Both were three minutes, but
they added up.
The next bunch of RANA gigs will likely be comprised of similar base
elements — songs off of last year’s Here In The USA and a batch or
two written since. Given the amount of original material RANA has played
over the past three years – nearly 60 new songs – it’s surprising how
limited their repertoire is at a given moment. Surprisingly enough, this
actually makes a case for seeing them multiple times. For one, the songs
are that good. For another, they become increasingly baroque with
each performance — new flourishes, short solo sections, pick-scrapes,
doubled vocals, often surface for a rendition or two. If jambands tend to
make preparatory sketches for the infinite, then RANA seem to have a
specific goal in mind. Gradually, the pieces will fall into place for
another studio recording. This is why a RANA residency will be interesting
to watch, as they play with song order, intros, and outros, and figure out
just how all this stuff fits together.
And where RANA played for about an hour (album length), the Jacob Fred Jazz
Odyssey played for over three, with no setbreaks. Jacob Fred are, put
bluntly, the real deal. It is to their eternal credit that they were able to
sustain interest for as long as they did — a good hour-and-a-half after the
point where I usually start fantasizing about cutting off guitarists’ hands.
They’re what The Slip might’ve turned into, had that trio never discovered
Rhythm of the Saints by Paul Simon (not an unfortunate discovery, but
certainly a direction-defining one).
Much credit, of course, should probably be doled out to guest guitarist
Steve Kimock, whose guitar playing hovered consistently near the sublime all
night. In the context of his own projects, Kimock’s creative choices have
always seemed to be insufferably wussy (though usually beautiful). When
reigned in by the constraints of a supporting role, there are few better on
the planet than Kimock. He is one of the few guest guitarists who make it a
point to do more than simply solo over the host band’s changes. Kimock
actually contributes to the tunes on a practically submolecular level. His
tiny vamps and gently brushed finger rhythms were perfectly placed.
Yes, I’ll say it again: Jacob Fred are the real deal. Their jams ventured
far and wide, spinning off on strange rhythmic tangents that suggested free
jazz, but remained lashed together by the all-powerful, indomitable,
danceable groove. The trio (plus Kimock) was impressively flexible, veering
all over the map. Most impressively, keyboardist Brian Haas employed a
melodica as a real instrument, in addition to pulling great sounds out of
his Rhodes (including some by way of curious hammering with a screwdriver).
At their best, the band used different ideas about jazz and jamming to
forward what they were doing. Somebody would play a short bebop line, and
the entire band would drop into a swing beat for a few measures.
The band lost momentum with the addition of keyboardist-about-town Marco
Benevento and Living Daylights saxophonist Jessica Lurie for a rendition of
John Coltrane’s ‘India’. Benevento and Haas got entangled in
four-hands-on-one-keyboard shenanigans, which managed to be surprisingly
coherent (though less than interesting musically). Generally, though, just
having the two additional musicians onstage made the band less graceful. At
the same time, it was this attitude – the willingness to goof off – that
imbued Jacob Fred with the affability required to sustain themselves onstage
for three hours without coming off as pretentious fucks — and what might
let them develop themselves onstage at the Mercury Lounge and Harper’s Ferry
over the next month.
Jesse Jarnow thinks all this snow is
awfully gauche.

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