Songs from the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey sometimes seem to be works in progress, which is good. That's what improvisational music should be. Fresh ideas. Different slants. But the young men that make up the band are also works in progress. They've been working together for a long time, but they're going to get better.
The band visited E. O'Dwyer's, curiously enough, just a small bar in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on June 23. The visit was pretty much unheralded and the crowd small. But it still gave the group a chance to sit down and blow, and they seemed undaunted. A heavy touring band, it appears that they just want a place to set up and start making music.
That's another good thing.
On this particular evening, the group traveled all electric, despite the acclaim of their acoustically oriented Walking With Giants CD. The room didn't support acoustic piano, so keyboardist Brian Haas stayed electric, as did bassist Reed Mathis. Drummer Jason Smart has enough smack to go with whatever direction the band chooses.
While the acoustic CD may have invoked comparisons to The Bad Plus, another rising jazz trio, this set in Saratoga showed there is very little in common. Jacob Fred has more in common with electric Miles Davis, Hendrix and hot fusion bands than anything The Bad Plus does.
And that's another good thing.
Medeski, Martin and Wood? Well, yes, a bit. This group isn't in that echelon yet. But they are hard working and moving on their own journey. They also didn't lay down those steady grooves that MMW does and improvise over them. Jacob Fred has it influences, as any band does, but is making its own sound; its own Big Fun. Good thing.
The gig kicked off unannounced right from sound check to a shuffle beat from Smart that featured Mathis in his perhaps now trademark use off the octave pedal that gives his bass a high, guitarish sound. Not hollow body, but a searing soaring sound. Haas on keyboards played raucous chords, comping at times and pounding frantically at others. Mathis is not a virtuoso. But that's OK. They are going for a group sound... something rare these days. He doesn't have to be Mike Stern or John Scofield. His forays fit what's going on among his comrades. So do the blasts from Haas, as he splashed chords and tossed off sounds in the right places, in odd places and in open spaces.
The volume often builds into a crescendo that rivals most rock bands in volume. It's free spirited. There were no references to mainstream jazz, other than in spirit.
Mostly originals were played, but they also investigated music of Bjork and even Brian Wilson. At times it got melodic, but at others time signatures changed, Smart bounced from funk to rock to Afro influences and did so smoothly. Both Haas and Mathis elicited spacey, ethereal sounds over the groove, playing with interesting textures and colors, much more than melody or harmony. And all three could get funky, too.
The group plays in synch, no matter what tangent they might be on. The bass is not limited to holding down the bottom. The center of the groove and the sound is more in Smart's hands and drumsticks. But the group can get down when Mathis gets away from the octave pedal and into down-home strutting on bass.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is a group to be watched. They aren't afraid of experimenting and ... it would seem... not afraid of getting some things wrong as long as they are trying too get to different parts of their musical labyrinth that are unique - and fun.
Another good thing.