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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

One look at this scruffy trio of touring bohemians from Tulsa, Okla., (they play 150 dates a year across the country), and “jam band” immediately comes to mind. However, what pianist Brian Haas, bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Jason Smart are doing as Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is more harmonically involved and rhythmically intricate than anything coming out of the jam-band scene. Formed 10 years ago, JFJO was initially inspired by Medeski, Martin & Wood. But the trio has gradually embraced more audacious experimentation, pushing the envelope from 1998’s Welcome Home (Accurate) to 2002’s All Is One (Knitting Factory) and two simultaneous Kufala releases in 2003: Symbiosis Osmosis and the live Slow Breath, Silent Mind. No neohippie, post-Phish group would have the skill or even the nerve to tackle Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” (at least without irony) and yet, JFJO does precisely that with a heartfelt rendition on the live CD, which also features Monk’s “Off Minor,” Coltrane’s “Central Park West,” Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring” and Wayne Shorter’s “Fall.”

JFJO’s latest, Walking With Giants (Hyena), shows more growth in their writing and more dynamics in their overall interplay and it includes a DVD documenting a March 2004 two-night stand at Yoshi’s in Oakland. Haas, who in the past has dabbled on heavily-effected Fender Rhodes, focuses strictly on acoustic piano here, blending touches of playful stride (“Muppet Babies”) with spiky Cecil Taylor-isms (“Calm Before the Storm”) and a dynamic Ahmad Jamal touch (“Sean’s Song”). Often Haas will assume the traditional bass role with his left hand, as on “Nibbles,” “Son of Jah” and the ethereal “Hover,” freeing Mathis to soar majestically into the high register and carry melodies with his bass, which is run through an octave pedal.

Mathis says the title Walking With Giants “was originally conceived during a hike in the Redwoods, just absorbing the ancientness and timelessness of the forest. But it also refers to our heroes in the music-everyone from Bird and Bud Powell to Trane, Monk, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Jimi Hendrix and Jaco Pastorius. These are the giants who paved the way for us.”

Originally Published