Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: One Day In Brooklyn

By: Dennis Cook

The studio debut of the 2009 configuration of JFJO is perhaps the "jazziest" effort from them in some time. While often seen as the genre's wild child (a well earned tag), the Fred works in a smoother, slinkier vein on One Day In Brooklyn (released September 1 on Kinnara Records), fitting for what may be the most forthrightly sensual lineup in their 15 year history.

Beginning with a rollicking double shot of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, "A Laugh For Rory/Black & Crazy Blues," dedicated to recently departed friend/producer/music maestro Joel Dorn, the four-piece JFJO - Brian Haas (piano, keys), Josh Raymer (drums, percussion) and new arrivals Chris Combs (lap steel, guitar) and Matt Hayes (upright bass) – struts out confident, playing arm-in-arm like men with something to prove. There's a forthright appeal to that kind of "chip on your shoulder" mentality when applied to high-end material like this, and JFJO keeps the momentum going till the end of this six-track EP. While Winterwood, their last release with bassist/co-founder Reed Mathis, found them reconfiguring tradition into strange new shapes, One Day, perhaps wisely, is a bit more orthodox and thus probably a better handshake to the bread 'n' butter jazz community. Oh, they've still got plenty o' quirks (the hip-hop/classical hybrid "Drethoven" is wholly Fred in nature) and lap steel isn't your standard jazz instrument (outside of kindred spirit Bill Frisell's bands, a palpable echo here) but this EP goes down smooth in a way that perhaps their other recent boat rockin' doesn't.

Original "Country Girl" is like one of those lovely gems one discovers on old Prestige albums by Yusef Lateef or Sonny Rollins, a beautiful merger of craftsmanship and unabashed melody that shows off Combs unique, moving technique to best form here. Their reading of The Beatles' "Julia" is actually more melodramatic than the original, with Haas' piano out front, as it is pretty much throughout One Day. That's perhaps the main difference between this release and much of what we know as Jacob Fred. Haas is the clear leader now and instead of the creative sparring one's come to expect there's unanimity of vision stemming from his keys, where the others certainly shine but their glimmer isn't quite as bright as Haas, at least not yet. Within a genre that adores pianist this may not be a bad move, especially with Haas turning in some of his loveliest work to date on the non-Western modalities of "Imam" and a superb Midwestern accented reading of Monk's "Four In One."

It's too soon to tell what this newly minted quartet will eventually sound like, but this glimpse into their emerging artistic construction is ample (and satisfying) proof that JFJO endures, keeping jazz on its toes and kicking its borders a few inches wider with each salvo.

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[Published on: 9/5/09]

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