JFJO | 02.12.09 | Oakland

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Josh Miller

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey :: 02.12.09 (late show) :: Yoshi's Oakland :: Oakland, CA

JFJO :: 02.12.09 :: Oakland
In its deepest genome, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey has always been about change, be they shifts in the music or even personnel. For them, the basic puddle of life they draw from needs to bubble and churn. While occasionally chill, they are never placid or serene. So, with this in mind, I strolled into Yoshi's Oakland anxious to see what new digit they'd grown or how sleek their new fur looked. In no substantive way was I concerned about the recent departure of bassist/co-founder Reed Mathis. Unlike many in the jam spheres, I'm a lot less hung up on the cult of personality that frequently builds around individuals. I find I'm always more interested in the whole organism, what its writhing and chatter sounds like, and since falling for The Fred in 2002 I've rarely encountered a more alive, evolutionary musical animal.

Strolling out in suit jackets and no ties, I was struck how much like school boys let loose in a pristine cathedral this pairing of venue and artist was. But, my faith holds that God's Gnostic heart is always found with loving rabble-rousers like JFJO because it's they who lead the flock away from passivity and dead-eyed obedience to authority. And again digging into the inner workings of their DNA, it's worth noting how orthodoxy and tradition are incorporated but rarely if ever bowed down to with Jacob Fred. While co-founder/keyboardist Brian Haas and newish drum mangler Josh Raymer have been vetted it remained to be heard if newcomers Chris Combs (lap steel, guitar) and Matt Hayes (acoustic bass) were kindred spirits. With Duke-ish flair (the first of several Ellingtonian twinkles this set), the quartet launched a Money Jungle-like strut with piano throwing bright flashes in our eyes for a few moments until the intense tang of steel guitar slid in, lubricated and filling any possible gap left by Mathis' strange voicings. With Combs and Haas riding the front edge, there's more light pouring from their music than in recent times. It's hard to explain but the more subtle low-end relationship between Hayes and Raymer combined with two sharply drawn melodic instruments is uplifting in a new way for JFJO. There has always been great joy in their music but something fresh tugs at the spirit in this configuration.

This lineup made their debut on January 10 at the NYC Winter Jazz Festival, and with only a month fully in the saddle they're still working out their interactions, with Haas signaling solos and yelping audibles. That said, holy jumpin' jeezus they sound so very, well, Fred. Theirs is energy music full of wild invention played against thoughtfully clever compositions and a potent, volatile love/hate relationship with jazz history. Simpler, they are friction AND glide, cataclysm AND birth funneled into punk-classical microcosms. It's not an environment most musicians could thrive in, requiring confidence, devil-may-care bravado and a willingness to get bloodied trying and failing at different things. Luckily, Haas, the clear leader here, is surrounded by guys who get the big "IT" of JFJO, and that fact was clear before the first tune had wrapped.

Josh Raymer :: 02.12.09 :: Oakland
Since Raymer came on board in 2007, there's been an increased intensity and rise in overall temperature. With Mathis working in other fields, the bond between Raymer and Haas has matured into a dyad that may one day rival the 15-year telepathy Mathis and Haas shared. They stoked each other throughout this set, pushing for a bit more in the solos and prodding something finer in the straightaways. For example, their curious and hugely appealing take on Ellington's "Oklahoma Stomp," which tapped Duke's profound finger magic but also echoed liquidy Outkast, '40 Midwest big band swing and the boulder breaking smash of Buddy Rich. Without another alpha male personality in the bass role, paired with Hayes' fat, patient tone, Raymer unleashed a plethora of new textures and moves. This is no dig at Mathis, who is simply one of my all-time favorite players, but one is naturally curious about the differences when someone leaves after a decade and a half of dictating a group's sound.

Further differences: With a tripping hazard array of effects pedals and dials, Combs touches upon a similar auditory spectrum as Mathis at times but – and this is important – he mainly works in a wholly different assortment of sonics and approaches than previously heard in Jacob Fred; at times a spooky swing vibe, at others a penetrating moan akin to Jerry Garcia's steel work, some parts evoking Les Paul's wacky '50s work with Mary Ford and others the charged current of Speedy West and Merle Travis. There's a whole lot more Oklahoma twang to The Fred now, and it's a welcome voice that honors their Tulsa origins. Similarly, Hayes inhabits different places than Mathis usually visited, giving the group a more sinewy character, something felt under the skin, moving bone and muscle in an unseen manner.

And what of dear Brian Haas? What this performance cemented for me is his place as my personal favorite pianist alive. No hype, no bullshit. I've heard most of the major dudes working ivory today and there's just nothing quite like Haas. I've grown tired of comparing him to the greats and during this set one felt his originality slosh all over them. Since folks adore (and perhaps even require) touchstones to "get" a contemporary player, I'll offer this: Monk and Bud Powell wouldn't kick this modernity-addled Jelly Roll Morton out of bed for eating crackers. Even those high-minded glosses don't really do the trick. There's too much hair and sweat on his stuff to make it work in hierarchical terms. He's an original and remains the throbbing muscle pumping blood through JFJO's arteries. If anything, he seems more possessed than ever to continue the Odyssey down its own path, finding fresh ways to combine accessibility with innovation, melody with dissembling, the past with the future, all coalescing in the present like a fog that remains but a moment yet drenches us good.

Brian Haas :: 02.12.09 :: Oakland
Combs had a way of slipping in and out of things with spectral perfection. He's obviously still finding his way into JFJO's massive catalog but he's doing so in his own way, emulating little from the band's past, and in this way being true to their prevailing id. Take, for example, the delay riddled stunner of a solo he pulled out during "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" or the third eye opening antics during new tune "Drethoven," which bounced to a monstrous Raymer breakbeat while steel melted all over a metronome challenging piano figure and the wide-legged double bass stride. A perfectly placed cover of Jerry's "Crazy Fingers" showed the quartet can handle quietude, too, and another new one, "Country Girl," was a tipsy hayride to a traveling carnival that left us laughing, wind rumpled and smelling sweetly of straw and the outdoors.

"We decided to give away our best record for free rather than our worst record for free," quipped Haas before "Dove's Army of Love," which has already mutated from the studio version on the recently released Winterwood. Like much of their catalog, it's a highly modern tune that moves within and without the expected jazz field, filled with post-electronica percussion anchored to elegant keys.

So, what's the pronouncement for Jacob Fred 2009 Edition after my first taste? It's different but the same in all the right ways. Their central character remains vibrantly intact. The generative force in JFJO thrives on evolution and devolution, a thrillingly immediate philosophical ying-yang that actually honors their jazz ancestors more than any codified, wine bar, bebop-ish bull (oh Wynton, why must you have such a big mouth and so much influence?). They stave off stagnation by embracing difference and welcoming in any worthy influence. It's gotta be a nightmare to market and it requires a fair amount of fans, too, but in the end its what makes them the Wild West gunslingers in a community of domesticated servants.

On a personal note, my own evolution as a chronicler and commentator on music sort of begins with Jacob Fred. My first piece for JamBase, published on July 9, 2002, is about them. I had written a review after seeing them for the first time. It was rangy and untamed but full of passion, and I doubted anyone would publish it. Then I found JamBase, and countless articles later I'm the Associate Editor, but I still find myself consistently enlivened by Jacob Fred in a way few others rival. I bring this up to point out how what JFJO does helps carry "Art" with a capital "A" to higher ground. Their refusal to play to more readily profitable avenues and the tenacity of their creative drive is inspirational. It's made me a better writer, constantly sparking what I feel is my most honest, excited work, and I think, in perhaps unquantifiable ways, they do the same for music in the cosmic sense. This set at Yoshi's only confirmed these beliefs and made me hopeful for their future. Long live JFJO!

"The more one studies the harmony of music, and then studies human nature, how people agree and how they disagree, how there is attraction and repulsion, the more one will see that it is all music." - Hazrat Inayat Khan

Above quote taken from Chris Combs' MySpace page, where he also says, "I like breathing and humans that continue to evolve. I love you." Yeah, this guy's gonna work out just fine in The Fred.

Chris Combs & Matt Hayes :: 02.12.09 :: Oakland
Brian Haas :: 02.12.09 :: Oakland

You can hear MP3s of the early set at Yoshi's and see footage of JFJO with guitar master Bill Frisell at a recent show by popping over HERE.

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moephishH2O starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/24/2009 02:28PM
+7 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


JFJO's show in Eugene w/ The Bridge was fantastic. Really impressed with Chris on the lap steel and Matt on bass.

BrotherCal starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/24/2009 02:59PM
+6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Viva La Fred!!! It amazes me that people are still sleeping on the mighty JFJO. They are our generations equivalent to Keith Jarrett, Charles Lloyd, Joe Zawinul, etc. For the uninitiated, I would suggest getting in on it now 'cause twenty years from today they'll be playing Carnegie Hall. It'd be good to say you were in on the ground floor, that you saw them back in their prime before our culture caught up to them.

Steph starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/24/2009 03:07PM
+7 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Thanks, once again, Dennis for putting into words what I wish I could. After the Yoshi's show I couldn't stop thinking about how much I loved the new incaration in all the old ways. Cheers!!

ClaysTribe starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/24/2009 04:24PM
+6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Still kicking myself in my one nut for missing the L.A. show with skerik and billy martin


AlephFredHead starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/24/2009 06:23PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

wow, great article, everything put that ive felt and couldnt quite explain

AlephFredHead starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/24/2009 06:37PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

JFJO Upcoming Dates!:

Wed Feb 25- Fort Collins, CO @ Hodi's Halfnote w/ Mike Dillon's GOGO Jungle

Fri Feb 27- Boulder, CO @ B Side Lounge

Sat Feb 28- Denver, Co @ Owsley's

Thurs Mar 26- Norman, OK @ The Deli

Fri Mar 27- Dallas, TX @ Granada Theater

Sat Mar 28- Austin, TX @ The Parish

Ohio and the East SOON after!

freetime3 starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/24/2009 06:59PM
+7 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


These guys are amazing!!! Anyone with the ability to hear should love them.

tulsaboy starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/24/2009 07:42PM
+6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Thanks Dennis you have absoloutely got everything perfect about the new Fred..I love em!! The new Fred lineup with its improvised jazz and injection of new creativity is so musicly exciting. Lap steel is so powerful mixed with Hass' mastery piano. Jazz with a little Tulsa sound and many other variations of music fused in. If you like jazz they will blow you away!! This is new, fresh, and still JFJO style... Just amazing to sit in and listen to...A little time and it will be very hard to get a ticket to see this group...The new JFJO of Hass/Combs/Raymer/Hayes is a must lineup you do not want to miss...

siraj starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/24/2009 07:43PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

"The more one studies the harmony of music, and then studies human nature, how people agree and how they disagree, how there is attraction and repulsion, the more one will see that it is all music." - Hazrat Inayat Khan

More on this story of music, harmony and humanity right here. . .


nickrbk starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/25/2009 06:31AM
+9 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


What is wrong with jambase today? everyone is agreeing, complementing the writer, and flat out being nice. i love it. keep it up! great article.

Hotchkiss starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/25/2009 07:32AM
+6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Good stuff Dennis!!

This new fred ia going to be a force to reckon with. Their show down here in L.A. was my 68th JFJO show. It was my third favorite Fred show. (first being legends lounge 01', second mystic hot springs 01').

Couldn't agree more with Brothercal. When my kids take history of jazz,JFJO will be in the text book.

AlephFredHead starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/25/2009 08:00AM
+6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Only JFJO can make everyone agree so positively.

n-1 starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/25/2009 09:33AM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

interesting to see a show review from dennis "the wordsmith" cook

Greg11 starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/25/2009 09:33AM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

2009 is the Year of the FRED!!!

MyFavBandIsTheBestYoursSucks starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/25/2009 10:53AM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I have only seen these guys once years ago. All this positivity gets me pumped to see them again! If you like good jazz, and have not heard

The Bad Plus do youself a favor.

AlephFredHead starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/25/2009 02:14PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

^theyve got a new album out for FREE @ http://www.jfjo.com if you like good jazz do yourself a favor

Conjugal Burning starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/25/2009 03:03PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Conjugal Burning

I am a true Fred Head.... Love the new incarnation as well Dennis!

yemmw Wed 2/25/2009 05:02PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I'm still getting used to the new lineup. I still can't believe they played with Frisell. Lucky bastards.

fishbone1 starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/25/2009 11:19PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


oh man i love that quote. i must use it! great article!

pjustus starstarstarstarstar Thu 2/26/2009 02:04AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I'm psyched about the new lineup. From what I've heard so far, Brian is controlling things, but I think once Chris Combs and especially Matt Hayes (the newest member, since technically Combs has been with the group since last spring or summer) become more comfortable playing in the band, we'll see some very high caliber group improvisation. Perhaps nothing like '00-03, but who knows? Hayes and Raymer were in an AlasNoAxis (Jim Black)-influenced band called Bunny Bunny that everyone should check out, by the way.

pjustus Thu 2/26/2009 02:05AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Oh BTW, Hotchkiss, were either of those '01 shows with Matt Edwards on drums?

Hotchkiss Thu 2/26/2009 07:43AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


nope, my first shows were on richards first tour.

wooleye starstarstarstarstar Thu 2/26/2009 09:29AM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

WE caught the new JFJO lineup in Fort Collins last night... I was slightly apprehensive, but mostly curious about the new line-up. They were amazing and I look forward to many more shows with these guys...