Reviews

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

Kael Moffat
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

City: Oklahoma City, OK
Venue: Belle Isle Brew Pub
Date: 2002-06-22
When asked about the innovative collaboration between Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, John Lewis, the Modern Jazz Quartet pianist, reputedly responded, "I don't know what it is, but it's something." This is probably the most honest response to innovative music, because musicians who push proverbial (apocryphal?) musical boundaries often times aren't sure of "what it is" either, and it may be the best, most honest response to the music of Tulsa, Oklahoma's Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. The Fred, as fans sometimes call the band, consists of keyboardist Brian Haas, bassist Reed Mathis, and drummer Jason Smart. Their brand of redneck jazz (as Haas once called it) is jazz in the most traditional, most New Orleans sense, meaning it relies on group improvisation, gets better the more the audience participates, and is thoroughly impression/mood-centered, rather than tightly melody-centered. Their shows are a combination of the Grateful Dead's organic, unscripted performances, King Crimson's aggressive sound and abandon of traditional musical structures, Herbie Hancock's blending of musical styles and elements in search of true/honest expression, and the Jazz Messengers' simple love of music and performance. The current trio line up is a two-and-a-half-year-old stripped-down version of the original septet line up, whose founding members included both Haas and Mathis. "Stripped-down," however, does not mean emaciated, for their sound is big and rangy, with more in common with trios like Rush, Foo Fighters, or the Jimi Hendrix Experience than other lighter sounding jazz trios (think of Diana Krall's trio, or even the great Nat King Cole Trio). The band's Belle Isle Brew Pub show was a welcome, late-hour addition to the home-range leg of their current western swing. These close-to-home shows have become more and more rare and relished as the band has begun to make quite a name for itself on the Eastern Seaboard and the West Coast, where they pack clubs alone or playing with artists such as Laurie Anderson, Mike Clark, the Charley Hunter Quartet, or The Slip, in addition to drawing crowds at music festivals as various as South by Southwest, the New Orleans Jazz Festival, the High Sierra Music Festival, and Berkfest. On this night, just ten minutes after ESPN's rebroadcast South Korea's dramatic victory over the highly-touted Spanish team in the World Cup, the band hit the stage and Haas announced their first tune as an improvisation entitled, "We Love the World Cup", a title suggested by Smart. "Everybody, help us out and think 'soccer,'" Haas quipped as the band launched into a meditative eight-minute run of call and response between Haas and Mathis, Haas and Smart, Smart and Mathis. With their format of keyboards, bass, and drums, Jacob Fred naturally seems to invite comparisons with Medeski, Martin & Wood, a band for whom the boys have a tremendous amount of respect. The comparison, however, can't be driven too hard. While both bands rely on complex interplay between very able musicians, Jacob Fred does not serve up Jimmy-Smith-funky-chicken-shack jazz. Haas began his musical odyssey as a classically-trained pianist, and even started on the competition/festival circuit that weeds out hopefuls for a handful of prime spots in the classical world. "I found that approach so constricting," Haas said. "It just took the life right out of the music." He subsequently dropped out of the classical rat race and helped form the Fred. The classical training certainly comes through in keyboard lines that switch between an old Rhodes and a melodica, and seem to effortlessly shift between Thelonius Monk, Jimmy Smith, Fats Waller, Beethoven, Eric Satie, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Philip Glass, and Ray Manzarek. Mathis is a jazzman in the best and fullest sense of the word. His performances slide quickly between nice and easy walking lines, slap, and fingered rhythms. With an array of effects pedals on the floor, he ends up playing bass like Adrian Belew plays the guitar, with many bent notes, odd intervals, and endangered chords, creating an eerie, beautiful tapestry of sound, at times very akin to John Coltrane's sheets of sound and at other times more subdued and heart-felt like a David Gilmore guitar solo. (For a revealing interview with Mathis, see jambase.com) Backing Haas and Mathis is Smart's driving, rhythmically varied drumming. Though he can play Billy Martin-like backbeats, Smart seems fonder of the Jack Dejonette/Tony Williams school of backbone beat keeping, which is not to say Smart simply marks a slavish tempo. Rather, he creates a rhythmic reference point for Haas and Mathis as they explore tonal and atonal undiscovered countries. Like the best drummers, though, Smart is savvy enough to make his instrument musical, as well as rhythmic, using fills to compliment and sometimes initiate radical changes of direction in the band's music of the moment. On this night, Jacob Fred's two sets ranged from the driving "Grub Ridge Stomp", about one of the band's favorite camping spots in Indiana, to the sweet "Arrival", a song about the birth of a child, to the celebratory "Good Energy Perpetuates Good Energy", a hold-over from the band's days as a septet, to the newer, sublime composition, "Pacific". This last piece featured Mathis at his psychedelic best, tweaking strings and working pedals, as he recreated whale songs on the bass. The bands final number was a fan favorite from their Self is Gone (2000) disc, "Tunjito". The boys' vibe was humming on this tune as they stretched what normally is a 10-minute exploration of theme, mood, and image, into a 15-minute stretch through all types of musical styles that have influenced the band. Haas even pulled a Sonny Rollins trick out of the bag when he started off one of his solos by inverting the song's theme and playing it backwards. During this last number, somebody from the audience called out, "Hey, don't hurt yourself up there!" Good advice for a young band that's playing "what it is" like nobody else . . . on this planet, at least.

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.