Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: The Sameness of Difference

Like the Bad Plus, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey (JFJO) is expanding the concept of the modern piano trio by covering rock songs side by side with originals and standards. But as The Sameness of Difference indicates, JFJO plays with a decidedly different approach, even if their shortcomings often compare with those of their esteemed colleagues.

Bassist Reed Mathis frequently takes the role of lead voice, using an octave pedal to boost his sound and give him a tone that’s similar to Bill Frisell’s. This attack adds a unique slant to covers of Jimi Hendrix’s “Have You Ever Been to Electric Ladyland” and Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” Pianist Brian Haas and drummer Jason Smart sometimes threaten to drown out Mathis, though. Further, the stop-start melody and two-fisted pianistics of “Davey’s Purple Powerline” come dangerously close to evoking Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Rock fans might like this, along with JFJO’s groovy readings of “Fables of Faubus” and “In Your Own Sweet Way,” but the trio’s fast-swinging “Halliburton Breakdown” and a take on Bjork’s atmospheric “Isobel” are more rewarding listens.

Left to his own devices on his solo disc, Haas tackles four Monk tunes, a standard, a piece by his trio mate Smart, and stretches out in three improvisations. No doubt he has chops to spare, but sometimes he needs to narrow his focus. His ability to play stride is on display in “Rhythm-a-Ning” (carelessly misspelled on the cover–c’mon, guys) and “Monk’s Mood” both of which get a little frenzied in tempo but never get too carried away. The 19-minute title track has moments of bright inspiration, held together by meandering sections, including one where Haas gets locked into noodling at the far ends of the piano.