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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: The Battle for Earth

Doug Collette By

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The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey has been an adventuresome group since first initiated as an eight piece ensemble in its home of Oklahoma in 1994 But the group has quite possibly never lived up so fully to its moniker since realigning itself as a trio (again) in 2013. Keyboardist and charter member Brian Haas, guitarist/lap steel/synth player Chris Combs and drummer Josh Raymer have engaged in ambitious projects like The Race Riot Suite (Kinnara Prod., 2011), as well as self-sufficient exercises in potent improvisation such as last year's Worker (Royal Potato Family Records, 2014), in so doing demonstrating the strength of their ideas lie in the unity of the trio.

Accordingly, it makes sense JFJO's next endeavor would be on the literally fantastic order of The Battle for Earth, music depicting a science fiction story line (devised by Combs), a corollary version of which is available in comic book form. True to the fundamental jazz ethic of the group, the performance in digital and CD form was recorded live at Dazzle in Colorado in the autumn of 2014, the threesome artfully incorporates the new material within the more recent compositions of the story-line, thereby successfully extending the twenty-one year plus continuity that is The Jacob Fred Odyssey.

Even with economically-arranged cuts such as "Better Living Through Competitive Spirituality" and "Hey Hey NSA," there's a definite sense of spontaneity radiating from the playing here, that atmosphere leavened by the the tongue-in-cheek attitude that precludes the pretension usually afflicting such concept pieces. Haas' grand piano foray on "Tetherball Triumph" amplifies that notion as the instrument's acoustic textures find cushion on keyboard bass combined with free-wheeling drumming of Raymer.

This spin through seemingly familiar turf morphs into much more as part of a larger whole as well as the soundtrack to a panel of artwork: immediately following, sonic textures ripple in and out of "Let Yourself Out" and, in turn, The Battle for Earth as a whole as synthesizers weave in and out of lap steel while piano functions as the percussion instrument it actually is, creating complex rhythm patterns with the snare and kick drum.

This music should function ideally as accompaniment to the artwork, that is, if it weren't so arresting on its own terms, in part because the quality of the recorded sound is the definition of 'being in the room with the band,.' Consequently, cuts like "Betamax" compel close attention if only to discern, first of all, how Haas, Combs and Raymer are interacting and, in turn, how much is actually composed rather than improvised. In contrast to "New Bird," this work of JFJO's is generally more upbeat than the previous studio album, as in the form of the appropriately titled "Bounce,"but it's no less intoxicating in its own way, the fairly quick succession of its eleven cuts, most of roughly four to eight minute duration, creating a similarly all-encompassing ambiance.

In fact, if The Battle for Earth were sequenced without the sound of the audience and titular leader Haas' spoken words, the precision of the playing would suggest this is the work of concentrated effort captured in a recording studio. There is no higher compliment to be paid to musicians whose chemistry and camaraderie allows them to sound this way on a stage.

Track Listing: Better Living Through Competitive Spirituality; Hey Hey NSA; Tetherball Triumph; Let Yourself Out; Betamax; The Finder’s Keeper; Appropriation Song; Say Nothing; New Bird; Bounce; Skeeball Over The Ocean/Sean’s Song.

Personnel: Brian Haas: piano, Moog bass, melodica; Chris Combs: guitar, lap steel, synthesizers; Josh Raymer: drums.

Title: The Battle for Earth | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Royal Potato Family

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