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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Three-Way Street

By Published: January 9, 2006
AAJ: Was this a tough organization for you to enter?

JS: At the time I started, yes. But it's a factor of a million things as to why.

RM: He jumped in at a crazy moment. We were doing 250 shows a year when he started. We'd been on the road for seventeen months straight when he did his first show.

JS: There was this crazy level of go-getterness—almost too much. It needed to chill out and leave space, which we've eventually gotten to. It makes the music better. Our lives are better. You can't be onstage improvising with people that you want to strangle, that you're mad at! And if you never get away from each other, you can't make good, loving, wholesome music like you're trying to make together by harboring stuff like, "you did this thing in the van and I'm pissed at you!

AAJ: Yeah, that's for the Ramones, and it was hard enough for them.

JS: And that's playing super loud—"I can play louder than you. It works for rock, but it doesn't work for improvising.

AAJ: Let's talk about some of the originals on the record, starting with Jason's song "Slow Breath Silent Mind. There's often a cinematic quality to this band's music; there's a feeling of a story being told with a beginning, middle and end. I know there's a huge improvisational element to this song, but what I hear is distinct parts, sections—which you all have in a lot of your songs. It's sort of a suite that builds; tension rises and ebbs. There's some fantastic, searching drumming, but it's not a vehicle to show off drum chops. To me it's a short little epic that tells a story of struggle and maybe eventual acceptance.

RM: It worked!

JS: Well, as a drummer I don't have, maybe, a whole lot of harmonic knowledge, so I go for a textural kind of painting. And that title comes from just the madness of traveling around and doing this and completely being out of your element every day of your life. I'm a homebody kind of guy who likes to breathe deep, and eat what I want, and exercise, and it's really hard to do all that stuff when you're on the road. And so "Slow Breath, Silent Mind is just a reminder to me and hopefully the audience—we don't have lyrics, but it's there in the title—to take a slow breath, make focused decisions in the moment. Your life is probably going to be better off for doing that.

RM: That's one where Brian's improvising on the piano is all based on Jason's written melody. It really works that way; Jason's tunes tend to be like that, where there's a bass line tonality and a melody tonality. The way to improvise is to retain the tonality but mix up the phrasing and the rhythm. I was given three notes for the bass line, but it's all in the phrase that you make rhythmically, but with only those three notes: that's the tonality, that's the mood. And then there's this little melody. Most of his tunes have that feature.

JS: The sparse feel is just to counter some of the dense music we were making at that time. Now, on a regular basis, we get to those dense moments—which I'm not against, but there have to be some relaxed moments to make the dense moments mean something. If it's constant fff density madness—that's why nobody wants to hear free jazz.

BH: Well, now, the dense moments are part of the story. There's nothing forced. We're getting on stage and we're relaxed, which for me is a very new thing.

AAJ: Let's discuss "The Maestro.

RM: I wrote that song for Johnny Vidacovich. He's a drummer in New Orleans. He's one of the elder statesmen of the New Orleans scene, and doesn't leave much, although he does gig in New York and Europe and has toured extensively, played with a lot of folks. He played with Professor Longhair throughout the seventies, and Dr. John—every major New Orleans cat. I heard about him for years and years before I met the guy, and we hit it off. He's done gigs with us as a quartet, with two drummers. I've done trio gigs with his trio. And he's become a friend, but it's weird to be friends with someone that masterful; he's really incredible.

He does this thing where he drums and he does poetry—he's got these poems that are, well, not really rap, more like if you wrote lyrics to a Monk head. He does these funky second-line things and it all works together, whimsical words—just a beautiful cat. So I wrote a melody that I thought had the rhythmic cadence of one of his poems. He plays with a very relaxed style that's constantly improvised; he's never vamping. But it's always supported by the other stuff and it grooves like you wouldn't believe. Improvising with him is thrilling. So the game plan for that tune was: (a) feature Jason and (b) improvise like Johnny, have an open section where usually Brian would just blow—but not do that. Do what Johnny would do, a floating, sparse thing that's really funky.

BH: Like Johnny says, think about the weight of his arms and that's it.

RM: Yeah, don't think about what you're playing. Just think about space and weight.

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