Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia
Chris Jazz Cafe
June 14, 2006
The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey contains neither a Jacob nor a Fred, and some jazz purists would argue that maybe the band does not even play jazz. JFJO is a trio of Brian Haas, piano, Jason Smart on drums and bass guitarist Reed Mathias.
While their music is usually classified in the same oeuvre as Soulive and Medeski, Martin & Wood, one thing these bands share is the distinction of being potentially dismissed by the Stanley Crouch crowd for not playing "pure jazz.
JFJO plays their own brand of experimental-improvisational-funk-jam band jazz. They have created their unique niche, not as introspective as Bill Evans, and lacking the bombast of The Bad Plus. While their playing tends to avoid a traditional jazz format, it IS grounded in jazz tradition. Their style is almost its own genre, somewhere beyond post bop, yet not quite avant-garde.
On this night they mixed originals with covers such as Mingus' "Fables Of Faubus, Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way, the Lennon / McCartney tune "Happiness Is A Warm Gun, and a splash of Jimi Hendrix, the JFJO create their own unique sound. For example, they began "Fables Of Faubus by stating the melody; a third of the way into the tune the music morphed into an extended jam session; then, returning to the melody to close out the tune, they avoided the head / solo format. Mingus' composition became not so much a single tune as a three part suite. The band's free-form playing creates and builds dynamic tension, then brings it to satisfying release.
If it is possible for music to sound angry, their original "Halliburton Breakdown achieves this effectively. Mathias provided an inspired extended solo and created the impression of both bass and lead guitar through his use of the octave pedal. To compare the way he plays bass to anyone else, is to do him a disservice. Much the way Jaco Pastorius created his own unique voice, Mathias is forcing his imprint on electric bass.
Haas played piano with dynamic lyricism, with some of his phrasings and use of space suggesting Monk. When involved in his many rapid exchanges with Mathias, he brings a fiery intensity that seemed to channel Cecil Taylor, right down to Haas using his elbows on the keys.
Smart, on the drums, kept the groove, seeming to hold down the bottom effortlessly. He is a truly creative drummer, although at times he appears to get swallowed up by the music and his band mates, especially on some the extended funk jams and this may just have been the result of how the band was mixed that evening.
The ultimate road warriors, the JFJO spend up to two hundred nights a year on tour. The dividends are clear in their tight cohesion. I last heard them two years ago and in that time their growth and development is astounding.