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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: All Is One – Live In New York City

Comparisons with Medeski, Martin and Wood seem inevitable for the playful trio of keyboardist Brian Haas, bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Jason Smart, better known as Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Both ensembles draw from the same wells of inspiration-Larry Young Trio, early-’70s Herbie Hancock, Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor-and both conceive similar musical ideas-loopy grooves and improvisations, tight interplay and spacey melodies. JFJO formed in 1994, two years after MMW, but somehow the band has managed to exist mostly under the radar for nearly a decade, perhaps because it hails from Tulsa, Okla. All Is One: Live in New York City is the group’s seventh release. It’s unlikely that the CD will propel JFJO into MMW’s superstar orbit, but it’s a captivating album nevertheless.

JFJO comes too close to sounding like a MMW rip-off on the opening “Thelonious Monk Is My Grandmother,” where Haas plays aggressive, smeared keyboard riffs and droning chords. For the most part, however, Hass wisely steers clear of the Hammond B-3 organ, Clavinet and Mellotron (some of Medeski’s favorite toys) and optimizes the resonating sounds of the melodica, Fender Rhodes and acoustic piano. When Haas plays the melodica on “The Slip” and “Lovejoy” he gives the tunes a mysterious country twang, but he also lays down some loose-booty funk on “Three Splattered Eggs” and “Hunter Gatherer” with crisp, succinct melodies.

With Mathis placing emphasis in the bass’s upper register, and Smart’s supple, yet economical drumming on tunes like “Grub Ridge Stomp” and “Vernal Equinox,” JFJO’s All is One has a less cluttered sound than MMW’s recent “everything-and-the-kitchen sink” albums. Even when percussionists Chris Lovejoy and Chris Theberge join in on “Hunter Gatherer” and “Lovejoy,” JFJO retains an openness, and the extra percussion seldom clutters the band’s rhythmic momentum.

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey still has a MMW monkey on its back, but as evidenced by All Is One, that simian is slowly losing its grip.

Originally Published