What can one expect from a band that goes by the name Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey? To me, Spinal Tap instantly comes to mind, and their ill-fated attempt at fusion preceding a headlining puppet show. Fortunately, this Tulsa, Oklahoma, outfit provide no such noodling improvisation, but rather create a carefully arranged blend of electronic and acoustic elements that stretches the idea of the jazz combo. The JFJO (as they are commonly known) are no strangers to experimentation, as they have sounded like anyone from Ornette Coleman to King Crimson on past albums and incarnations. On Lil Tae Rides Again, keyboardist Brian Haas, bassist Reed Mathis, and drummer Josh Raymer worked closely with electronic producer Tae Meyulks to create a new sound for the group, one that threatens to wean them from the jam-band scene with which they are associated.
Mathis has stated that this album is highly influenced by Boards of Canada, Brian Eno, and even indie-rock all-star Panda Bear. It’s not difficult to hear elements of these artists permeating the album from the very first note, or drone as it were. A Boards-esque keyboard motif begins “Autumnal”, and various sonic textures are added in similar fashion to something from the Warp catalog, the drums being the backbone. JFJO keep their foot in the jazz world by maintaining an improvisatory feel, as the compositions are created by Meyulks in part using chopped up performances. The melodies tend to be minimal elements of the songs, rather relying on soundscapes with multiple earworms occurring at once. “Tether Ball Triumph” begins with chiming keys and electronic beats in the style of Aphex Twin, but transforms into a rollicking collage of chopped up drums and synthesized bass, a piece that would not sound too far out of place on Battles’ Mirrored.
Occasionally, it sounds as if the JFJO gave up too much to Tae Meyulks (they did name the album after him), and it simply comes across as a sub par electronica album. “Carpool” sounds like an outtake from Geogaddi, minus the stirring nostalgia that Boards of Canada is able to conjure. Likewise, “The Votes Are Counted” is a short, sparse instrumental that doesn’t offer anything beyond what is incorporated into the multitude of textures on each of the other tracks. Overall, the album has a very polished, almost sterile feel to it that detracts from the sense of surprise in their compositions.
Nevertheless, JFJO’s sense of adventure should be admired. When the elements are in balance, they are an exciting band, even if they seem to shrug off being in what could truly be called a band. “Santiago Lends a Hand” is a harmonically interesting piece utilizing chimes that develops beautifully, while being one of the funkiest tracks on the album. The running time of 38 minutes with eleven tracks is a relief to those expecting to hear a ten-minute guitar solo/exploration, though the similarity of electronic elements between songs gets a little bit wearing. Lil Tae Rides Again is strong piece of work, one that may or may not please fans of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. And they are certainly good enough to support a puppet show.