Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: The Sameness of Difference (2005)
The whimsically titled Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey (there's no one by that name in the band, and the "Jazz Odyssey comes from the execrable free jazz piece in This Is Spinal Tap) occupies a rather unique place in the jazz world. Electric bassist Reed Mathis, pianist Brian Haas, and drummer Jason Smart aren't the most improvisational band around; instead they concentrate on brilliantly arranged songsthe "jazz in their music grows from their breathing, vital interplay and their shifting, roiling rhythm.
The group's got some popularity on the jamband scene, and it was originally an electric band, but recent releases have seen it moving towards an acoustic sound, with Haas sticking to acoustic piano. The fine The Sameness of Difference continues that trend with a thirteen-song set of bracing originals and lots of transformed cover tunes.
And what tunes! I personally felt both thrilled and anxious to see the track listing, as the trio seemed to have chosen to cover all my own favorite songsJimi Hendrix's "Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland), Brian Wilson's "Wonderful, Charles Mingus' "Fables of Faubus, and best of all, fellow Oklahomans The Flaming Lips' gorgeous "The Spark That Bled. The anxiety came from the sad fact that a jazz group doing your favorite pop and jazz tunes just isn't enough... they have to bring something of their own to the songs.
And these guys do. The album begins with the Hendrix tune, and it's the best opening track on an album since, well, Jimi started off his own Electric Ladyland album with it. Haas here takes the song's melody with his ghostly, slide-guitarish octave pedal-effected bass (as he often does throughout the CD), but Haas' shimmering arpeggios make this more of a duet, and the results are luminous and exhilarating.
"The Spark That Bled is, typically, more a rigorous rearrangement of the Lips' multipart epic than any sort of avenue for extended improv, and it underlines what this group does. The musicians tend to play specific parts and their music is, ultimately, a sort of arranged chamber jazz that owes a great deal to classical and modern music. In this way, and despite the fact they sound nothing like them, the closest parallels to their approach would be groups like the Modern Jazz Quartet and Oregon.
The Mathis original "Santiago is a fantastic, bouncing hippie-hop tune with an insinuating piano line and bump 'n run bass. Long a JFJO crowd favorite in its electric version, this acoustic-piano rendition seems definitive. Smart's "Slow Breath, Silent Mind is a cinematic, piano-led song with shimmering cymbal work from the composer; the sections of this one combine to create a four-minute aural movie that does what the best songs do: it tells a story.
Remarkably, the entire recording was recorded in one day-long session, and credit must be paid to producer Joel Dorn, whose dry, unadorned soundno excessive reverb or studio grandeur heremakes every instrument palpable and full, but never gussied-up or prettified. This is the band's best album yet.
Track Listing: Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland); Slow Breath, Silent Mind; Isobel; The Maestro; Santiago; Fables of Faubus; The Spark That Bled; Don't Let It Bring You Down; In Your Own Sweet Way; Davey's Purple Powerline; Halliburton Breakdown; Wonderful; Happiness is a Warm Gun.
Personnel: Brian Haas: acoustic piano; Reed Mathis: electric bass, effects; Jason Smart: drums.