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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Three-Way Street

By Published: January 9, 2006
AAJ: And they're also not just sets of changes to blow over.

RM: Right. They're deliberately avoiding that. The only one that is is the Brubeck one ["In Your Own Sweet Way ] and we deliberately didn't do that on that one. We gave the Brubeck one the Aphex Twin Ambient Works treatment—that's what we were going for.

AAJ: The Hendrix song and a bunch of others feature you, Reed, playing the song's melody on your bass using an octave pedal effect—a group trademark. Definitely a big part of what you do. You do the same on Bjork's "Isobel, for example, and that one's particularly effective due to Brian comping over—or accompanying, I don't love the word "comp here—your melody.

BH: I would say what Reed and I do is based on the way Louis Armstrong and his band would play; like I'm Earl Hines and Reed's Louis when he's playing up high. It's like Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Except we think of the band as the three of us doing that—all of us interacting in that Louis Armstrong, Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry fashion where it's always call-and-response, even if it's super-minimal. You're right, I'm never really comping, I'm never just laying down chords. It's always interactive.

RM: Brian's gotten really good at understanding the role of bass. My friend Skerik, the saxophonist, is always telling me, "bass is a role; it's not an instrument. That's something that's not easy for a lot of keyboardists to grasp, outside of the B-3 kingdom.

AAJ: Yes, and those guys have their pedals.

RM: Yeah, they're brought up on that. But when we started doing it and I was playing in the high voice and Brian was playing the bass lines, I would get frustrated—because it would be more interactive. His left hand would be doing something that his right hand would normally do. And I'd be like, "no, it needs to be a bass line! Think of Bob Marley. And now we've got that stuff down; it's great.

AAJ: This can be a difficult point in group interaction. Musicians don't love being told what to play by someone else.

BH: That's something the three of us have perfected, actually. Jason Smart has been with the band for a little over four years. And that's one of the best things we do is grow and evolve and talk to each other about what the other guy is playing. We stopped getting offended about that years ago, but it's something we had to talk about. We've learned how to interact with each other in an ego-less way when it comes to what the other guy is playing. My two main influences—if I'm asked about that, I always say these two guys. There are no two other people on the planet who have given more of a shit about what I'm playing than these guys.

RM: For an ensemble, especially an improvising ensemble, it's in everybody's interest to have the music be stylistically homogenous with the desires of everybody. The more what you're playing is jibing with what the other guy wants to hear, the better the band's going to sound and the more it's going to be worth your while to be on the road for thousands of days a year. That's what we've learned: it's more important for the group to gel than for an individual to feel he played his thing. That's what you do in your living room. The whole has to come together. That's a sacrificing road, but that's what leads to good stuff, and eventually it led to this record—which we could not have made before the day we made it.

AAJ: Well, it's good you feel that way, because not only does it make for better music, but you tour like a rock band—lots of touring, lots of dates. If you didn't have that desire to work together, you'd probably be an ex-band.

RM: Definitely. And a lot of the seismic shifts in our group paradigm have come at moments when we almost were an ex-band—where it just gets to the point where one or all of us aren't getting the sustenance spiritually that we require to make this impossible lifestyle worth it. So we're honest with each other, try to bring up what might be the issue, and solve it. That's why we're still together after twelve years.

BH: Reed and I started the band twelve years ago and that's longer than I've been with any woman. Reed and I have learned, because we have a mutual love of the music that the other guy makes. Maybe sometimes in the past we haven't been able to jibe very much personally—which now is effortless. But what got us through stuff in the past was a mutual respect for the other guy's music. It's never been a financial decision; it's never been a business decision. I think that comes out on the stage. Because we've always been able to figure out how to work things musically, it's enabled us to continue to have a strong relationship as friends we maybe didn't have in the past. It's something I'm grateful for every single day. I've not always been the easiest cat to get along with.

JS: It's a total three-way street of teaching each other. Even if you're more of a timid person, like I think I used to be before I got into this band [group laughter]. You learn that you're either going to have this death-pit-of-the-stomach thing that you're holding back, or you express yourself. And for me, it's helped me to express myself.

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