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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Three-Way Street

By Published: January 9, 2006
AAJ: Okay, Brian, "Davey's Purple Powerline is your tune on this record. I can't sum this one up. I can say that it's built around two melodic phrases. There's a descending figure, and that sort of waltz-time thing. But this is an elusive song, sort of a schizophrenic obstacle course.

RM: [Laughing] A trip through Brian's mind.

BH: Welcome to our world.

AAJ: What can you tell me about this one?

BH: I really love pianists and jazz that are super-obviously call-and-response. And all of those melodies are just call-and-response. Sometimes it's call-and-response with the melody itself; sometimes it's call-and-response with the stride piano line. The concept of the tune is based around some guys I know in Oklahoma who grow some herbal remedies. These guys are pretty freaky dudes. They get out on the land, don't come off the land for a while, they start imagining stuff—and that's part of the song title, this guy who actually just had a freak-out: Davey. I love Thelonious Monk so much, but at the same time, the main thing I respect about him is he didn't sound like anybody else. So that melody is almost a kind of Monkish lilt, but I wanted the improvised section to be the opposite of what Monk does. I'm loosely still playing the melody, but "Jah Smart—Jason—is doing a lot the arranging just impromptu, with all of the stops and starts and the time changes.

RM: We just let him conduct us.

AAJ: He's driving.

BH: Yes!

RM: He'll switch tempo and feel and density and we just try to hang with what he does.

BH: We just try to watch him and respond to his arrangement. So that's a tune where I wanted to do the opposite of what we're doing on the rest of the record, and just let him conduct, to show how we converse with each other. Because it's super-unique; no one has a language like ours and very few people respond as quickly as we do to what the guy is doing. So none of that is arranged. I just started playing the melody and the stride piano and these guys fell in. And there's that waltz section and that's it. All the time changes are improvised, the melodies, everything. But a lot of it sounds like an arrangement.

JS: But having those beginning bits, like you said—those two sections. You still have two little bits to jump off of, come back to, kind of signal that you're trying to go to one place or another. A lot of our tunes are that format.

BH: But all the middle section is totally improvised and those time changes that sound like we're all watching for them—that's just us getting lucky.

RM: There'll be a pause, and bam! When Jason comes down, I don't know where the quarter note's going to be at, I don't know what key we're going to be in—but you just have to let go of your mind, and nine times out of ten I hit the root of whatever chord Brian does and I play a bass line exactly in sync with Jason.

JS: 250 dates playing through the south—you tend to go inward with the group.

AAJ: "The Spark That Bled. Fantastic cover version. The original by the Flaming Lips is one of my favorite songs of the last ten years. What interests me, again, is your arrangement and how it seems to include all the musical information of the original. But it's also incredibly appropriate that you would choose to cover this song, because in some ways it's similar to what you do in your own songwriting: melodic, storytelling, multipart music. In that sense, it's similar to the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun, which you also cover—that's one of the most famous multipart tunes ever. Do you see the similarity?

RM: That's why we chose "Happiness is a Warm Gun —because it seemed like a form that we would be right at home in. And the Flaming Lips as well. Like Brian said, the Flaming Lips and the Hendrix tune are the two covers that, to me, sound the most like classical compositions. And Brian and I played classical music for the first half of our lives and that's definitely a large home world for us. Brian compared "The Spark That Bled to Beethoven and to me, the Hendrix tune sounds like the Romantic era—Liszt, Chopin. And the Lips tune—we didn't even arrange it. We pretty much run it down exactly as it is on the record but with our voice. But having that grand piano and those big chords; it's just an excuse to show the world what good songwriters those guys are. We don't have to dress it up or do a darned thing. All we do it is render it on different instruments and you're like, "god, what an incredible composition!

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