The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: JFJO: The Sameness of Difference (2005)
You don't necessarily have to listen to JFJO pianist Brian Haas' solo album The Truth About Hollywood to appreciate the group effort, but it helps (and it's a pleasure to listen on its own terms). But don't think of this solo piano album as merely a warmup, because it's too intense to be termed so. It's more like a stretching and toning exercise for Hass' creative mind and technical expertise in preparation for what turned out to be the marathon single session that produced this CD.
Overseen by Joel Dorn, who has worked with Roland Kirk and Charles Mingus, and recorded in a single protracted New Yolk City session in June, 2005, the JFJO collects material from sources new (Björk's "Isabel ) and old (Charles Mingus' "Fables of Faubus") and laces them through and through with intuitive twists and turns. The three artists, who also move as one through the likes of Brian Wilson's "Wonderful" and their own original "Halliburton Breakdown, display an unmistakable vigor no matter what direction they go.
Yet The Sameness of Difference succeeds by understatement: there are no grand flourishes, but a series of increasingly pivotal moments, the total of which is memorably greater than the sum of its parts. Listen to the way the band moves assuredly through the live rendition of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun.
Haas, bassist Reed Mathis, and drummer Brian Smart extend the grand old jazz tradition of reworking and reinventing pop music of the day. From the aforementioned Beatles tune to the Flaming Lips' "The Spark That Bled, then on to the JFJO's own "Santiago" and "The Maestro," you can't help but be impressed by a discerning choice of material that suits the band's temperament, not to mention their individual and collective styles(s). The ever-so-tight lock of the rhythm section only magnifies the emotional investment of Haas' work on the keyboard and vice versa.
Nevertheless, the range of material included here isn't jarring but engaging. To hear Neil Young juxtaposed with Dave Brubeck reveals what may be the main charm of this disc: its constant delightful surprise. Jacob Fred's internal dynamics work in such a way that the transitions are inviting rather than off-putting. Accordingly, the intro to the album is Hendrix's "(Have You Ever Been to) Electric Ladyland, where Mathis' effects conjure an intriguing atmosphere that draws you inexorably in.
The JFJO has morphed over time into a broad concept that is much more than just a band of musicians. Combine that with the unified vision of The Sameness of Difference, Haas' solo project, coincidental with Mathis' recruitment by Steve Kimock and Smart's enlistment with Robert Walter, and you can hear how these three musicians, alone and together, constitute a unique extension of jazz's ethic of improvisation.
Track Listing: (Have You Ever Been to) Electric Ladyland; Slow Breath, Silent Mind; Isobel; The Maestro; Santiago; Fables of Faubus; The Spark That Bled; Don't Let It Bring You Down; In Your Own Sweet Way; Davey's Purple Powerline; Halliburton Breakdown; Wonderful; Happiness Is A Warm Gun.
Personnel: Brian Haas: acoustic piano; Reed Mathis: bass, effects; Jason Smart: drums.
Record Label: Hyena Records
Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock