Jazz and the Lizard Lounge. I don't think that there could be a better fit. For everyone who doesn't live in the Boston area, the Lizard Lounge is an intimate, very comfortable jazz club on Massachusetts Avenue on the outskirts of Harvard Square. For jazz fans, the Lizard Lounge is one of the best rooms in Boston, technically Cambridge, to see the music they love. Upon coming down the stairs and setting foot in the Lizard Lounge, you kind of feel like you're back in your living room. The performance area is right in the middle of the room; the players stand on top of beautiful rugs and are surrounded on all sides, except their back, by the audience. On a typical night at the Lizard Lounge you can freely move around wherever you would like to go. On Friday October 11th, you could barely get to the bar to order a drink. Why, because the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey decided to bring their mind-melting sounds to quite possibly the classiest room in town.
I had never seen the Lounge this packed before. We were almost at the 105-person room capacity. The Fred was clearly in their element. I guess they decided to bring it back to where it all began for this tour, the underground jazz club. The Lizard Lounge has been home to many a band over the years. They have a devoted group of fans who will come down to enjoy live music simply because it is being performed at the Lizard Lounge. In that way it is similar to the old Wetlands in NYC, people would come down because they knew that any given night of the week this room will have quality music. There is a certain reputation associated with that room. The Lizard Lounge maintains this reputation by bringing very talented, although maybe not well known, players on a consistent basis.
Friday proved no different. I think there was a connection in the room from the very beginning. We were all in on this secret and I think we all felt very privileged to be there. I was expecting a line halfway around the block, but somehow everything always works out perfectly at the Lizard Lounge. The music started off with a blast as usual. Jason Smart was laying down a solid foundation all night. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen Jason have as much fun as he was having on this night. He seemed to really be getting into it and grooving tonight. Everyone was so laid back, but again, that's the Lizard Lounge for you. This Fred concert was brought to us by Maxx Haze Productions, a Boston based production company especially known for providing long nights of organic music. Of late, Maxx has been stretching the boundaries and including some rock shows and even some jazz. Maxx has been cooking recently and if this was a taste of things to come, I'm excited.
With Jason and Reed Mathis on bass laying down the beats, Brian Haas on Rhodes piano and keyboards was free to create some mad sounds of his own. As Brian started pounding the keys I looked around the room to see some startled faces. You can always tell when someone is new to the Fred sound; they always seem to have a startled, confused look on their face. Tonight was no different. As Brian pounded away, Reed would then take his turn. Reed Mathis is doing things on the bass that have simply never been done before. He broke out the acoustic tonight; it looked like the kind of bass that Paul McCartney plays. Reed coaxed some strange sounds out of that bass; at times it was as if it was talking to us. Reed uses a few pedals when he plays and manages to make his bass sound like every other instrument besides the one it is. When you hear Reed play the bass in the traditional way, you are almost surprised. The opening tune, "Thelonious Monk Is My Grandmother," was perfect. This tune pays homage to one of Fred's heroes, Thelonious Monk. I've seen it played a few times before, but never the same twice.
After a few intense jams, Brian then reached out to the audience for some inspiration, first asking for requests, then simply saying they were going to do an improv jam and calling out for ideas. They started the jam off and it quickly built up into a frenzy, with all three members giving it everything they had. It was, I believe, around this time that I saw the Fred do something I had never seen them do before. Reed threw his bass to the side and picked up a melodica of his own to join Brian who was already playing one. It was real interesting to see Reed play the melodica. Although I couldn't quite tell if Reed could actually play it, the crazy jam that ensued gave me my answer. They would take turns "soloing" if that's what you want to call it. The interplay between these two is inane, it's as if they were born to play with each other. I watched them send mental messages to each other all night through their instruments. Watching these two jam on the melodica, you could almost imagine them as little kids running around the house in their underwear, banging on pots and pans, playing their little toy pianos. The jam was just as intense as anything I'd ever seen the Fred do before and left the audience in utter chaotic amazement.
After that jam, we got a little more classic Fred, then a huge percussion jam. Reed and Brian both picked up drumsticks and started banging away at anything within their reach, including piano legs, mic stands and cowbells. Reed then actually started playing his bass with a drumstick, a trick I saw Buddy Guy do with his guitar this summer. After a long jam, I could hardly believe it was 2:00am and we had to stop the madness. I was extremely happy with the show I had just seen. I saw some excellent versions of some of my favorite JFJO songs and I was treated to some things I had never seen before. The great thing about JFJO is that they always leave you wanting more; it's never enough. They also seem to get better and better each time they play, yet every show is different. Strange, but true.
Not quite a week later I was back at the Lizard Lounge, this time to see the Boston debut of the Roots Cause (formerly and at the time called Za Zen), coincidentally another Maxx Haze Production. Roots Cause is comprised of four very talented musicians. Consisting of Gabe McCorrison on guitar, Mike Miksis on bass, Zack Field on drum kit and new addition Mike Tucker on tenor sax. Formerly a trio tonight was the debut of their new lineup as a quartet. They started the night off with their "hit single" "Blues For Nelson," a tune written by Gabe and inspired by Nelson Mandela. From the first bass note, the room was groovin'. Roots Cause sound is somewhere between The Slip and MMW, in my opinion. Two of the players are Berklee students; Gabe is actually a former student there, so this is a very serious group. It's amazing how tight they sounded considering that their drummer had become permanent only two weeks prior to this show, and this was actually their first show with Mike on sax. The band had really only been formed about nine months ago, then just Gabe and Mike Miksis.
I had been waiting for this show with excited anticipation. Their sampler discs had been making the rounds in Boston, and there was quite a buzz about this group. We were all waiting to see what they could do live and they didn't disappoint. I would definitely consider Roots Cause to be almost a traditional jazz band, but with a modern touch. Gabe and Mike Tucker really work well together, creating full jazz lines and playing off of each other really well. Mike Miksis and Zack create a solid basis of groove for the other two to solo off of. The crowd took to their sound right away and started dancing.
Next tune was called "A Little Like Miles," obviously a homage to the man himself, Miles Davis. Mike Tucker really impressed on sax and Gabe was shredding away. This band is tight. Period. They have a refreshing sound, which is something you really don't get too much these days. Unfortunately, they didn't get too much time on stage as there were two bands that played before them. We got three more tunes. "5'O Clock Shadow," "Coyote" and "Rolling Thunder." All the tunes Roots Cause played on this evening at the Lizard Lounge were original compositions and really showed off the songwriting talent of these players. Their ability to fuse traditional jazz with what I like to call neo-jazz, is incredible. They can move from Miles Davis in one second to John Scofield the next. I know I'm looking forward to their next show, and if you are lucky enough to live in the Boston area, go check these cats out. They will be playing at the The Milky Way in Jamaica Plain the last two Mondays of November. I don't think you'll be able to find a better deal for your buck.
Incidentally, I caught the last tune of the previous band's set, and it was smoking. They are a young band called Lotus and apparently are really hot on Sector 9 tour. They have a sound similar to Sector 9, but a bit jazzier. These are young kids with lots of talent. I wanted to mention them in this article because I can personally guarantee you will be hearing lots more from this band. Even though I only got to hear one song I danced my ass off, joining everyone else in the room. I believe they are situated out of Philly, but if you get the chance do yourself a favor and go check them out.
Words by: Sam Katz
Images by: Kevin Haas
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