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Extended Analysis

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Symbiosis Osmosis

By Published: February 11, 2005
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
Symbiosis Osmosis
Kufala Recordings

How can you not love these guys? Actually, it's not that hard if you're a fan of Kenny G or George W. Bush. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's Symbiosis Osmosis opens with a song dedicated to the president called "Dubya! Stop Lying!" It's followed by another that pianist Brian Haas—a recent co-founder of "The Dead Kenny Gs"—introduces as "We're Not Scared Of You Because We Believe In Karma And We Know You're Lying."

This trio has spent more than a decade cranking out intellectual jam band music with attitude. They've languished mostly in relative obscurity, but released a breakthough-quality album in 2004's Walking With Giants. Things take a couple of major turns on Symbiosis Osmosis , recorded live during two "early morning" festival sets and featuring a quartet of guest saxophonists.

It's at times an overly cluttered performance that catches the group at less than its best, which might lead one to ask why it's worth checking out, especially with numerous live performances readily available from their site and other web pages. Here's two reasons: 1) because of that generosity, and 2) even as an off album for the group, it still beats most modern jammers.

The opening features a brief clash of madness before launching into a beat-heavy simplistic beep riff and rambling lead line. So far, nothing a bunch of chord crunchers can't do. But Haas supplies much of the bottom end and Reed Mathis, who's been turning the concept of a bassist on its head for years, delivers the high-pitched lead line through an synthesized tone shifter, coming across as something between a trumpet and keyboardist. It feels like the quintessential 2005 protest song—a rather definite statement of JFJO's being ahead of its time as these concerts were performed in 2002-03.

If the entire album consisted of songs like these and the three that follow, including the odd swing/metal/trance of "Stride," this would rank as a decent effort falling a bit short of recent studio releases. But the ten-part "Improvisation With Four Saxophones" is overly cloying—although some doubtless will consider it a highlight.

Part of the problem is the thicker collage from seven players instead of three, since the base trio tends to do so much that just keeping up is a challenge. But it's also a product of the live setting, where overly repetitive horn fills and various Keith Jarrett-like hollers might play well with the crowd, but not the group's intellectual strengths.

There's too much talent for this to be a wasted effort, however. The first improvisation centers around intense hard bop beat, one sax usually standing out at a time with quality traditional passages while the remaining players dance around them. Their play is similarly impressive on the more fusion-oriented sixth part. Haas and Mathis get plenty of turns to occupy the foreground and almost always do so in a variety of creative ways. Strangely, drummer Jason Smart provides the stabilizing presence with fairly consistent, but suitably complex, backing.

Give JFJO credit for trying new things and not merely a search for the current "hot" sound. There's also nothing wrong with them cutting loose with extra players; it just makes for an album recommended as a change of pace for fans rather than those looking to get acquainted with the band.

Tracks: Dubya! Stop Lying!; We Believe In Karma; Son Of Jah; Stride; Improvisation With Four Saxophones (parts 1-10); Introductions.

Personnel: Brian Haas, piano; Reed Mathis, bass; Jason Smart, drums. Guest saxophonists include Skerik, Mark Southerland, Brad Houser and Frank Catalano.

Visit Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey on the web.

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