How many people are there in Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey? If you've not
yet attended a live show by this volcanically hot band of improvisational
madmen, you might answer: three. It seems like a straightforward question
with a simple answer. There's Reed Mathis on bass, Brian Haas on keys, and
Jason Smart rockin' the drum kit.
That's one... two... three people right?
Wrong. This answer could only come from someone who has yet to
experience the bacchanalian revelry that is the current "Magical Tour of
Truth, Love and Light." As the crowd at the Exit/In in Nashville found out
on Wednesday, there is simply no answer to this seemingly simple question.
Number itself breaks down and ceases to have any meaning as these Oklahoma
prodigies spin and spiral their audiences through an infinite number of
emotions, moods, sounds, and scenes.
First of all, as any attendee of a JFJO show is quick to gather, the
entire crowd is part of the band. I don't just mean every member of the
audience, which would still be a quantifiable number, but rather the sum of
the incalculable vibes that flow through the acoustical space of the venue.
So it doesn't matter if these guys are playing for an intimate club or a
festival arena (like High Sierra, where I first found these guys); either
way, the place is positively filled with energy.
In order to channel the music that is immanent in the room already,
Brian asks for words from the crowd--words and ideas on which they meditate
and then create. If someone says "dinosaur," we hear a JFJO rendering of
dinosaur. If someone says "state of the union," while someone else
suggests, "flap," we get the inventive compromise: "The state of the union
was a bunch of flap." (This last spontaneous improvisation actually
occurred at Wednesday's show). This blurring of the line between performers
and listeners, between giving and receiving, leaves the whole audience
possessing a part of the creative agency of the music.
Everyone is a player, and the band opens themselves up to listen, not
only to each other, but to the whole aura of the place itself. One person
suggested the simple words, "Shhh, peaceful." While he may have had the
Miles Davis ballad in mind, these words filled the instruments and souls of
the band and elicited some of the most beautiful sound scapes and gentle
harmonies in which my ears have ever bathed.
And when the music isn't flowing and caressing like waves on the
Pacific Ocean (another beautiful song played on Wednesday), it fills the
listeners with every other sensation and mood imaginable: rock like you've
never heard it, jolts of ambient experiments, straight-ahead jazz and
hard-bop that swings like a playground, and funk so nasty and contagious
that sitting still becomes an impossibility. Whether it's in your chair or on your feet, dancing is a must when they start spreading the jam that thick. Tunes like "Thelonious Monk is my
grandmother" fill the body with such a groove that it's all you can do to
keep from jumping right out of your skin. And your heart becomes as light
as your feet at the beauty and profundity of it all.
How could anyone insist that there are only three people on stage when
each of them is playing more by himself than most trios play all together?
Brian's fingers dance maniacally along the Rhodes while he simultaneously
plays the melodica. Reed, who you thought was just playing bass, is
actually maneuvering between wicked metal solos and the phatest, greasiest
bass lines you ever heard. And Jason is so on fire that you keep waiting to
see him use an extra arm to play everything he somehow manages to play with
By far the high point for me at the Nashville show was Fred's
performance of "The Slip," a song named after one of their (and my) favorite
bands. What astounds me every time I hear this song live is the fact that
The Slip really do seem to enter the room by some strange act of divination.
For the last couple years, the combined madness of The Slip and Jacob Fred
at High Sierra Music Festival in California has been the pinnacle of my
summer. Wednesday's show brought me back for a moment to that perfect
summer intoxication with its invocation of The Slip, the Pacific Ocean, the
redwoods (another source of inspiration for a Jason Smart
composition/improvisation), and everything I love about life and music.
And while I know that not everyone in the room experienced my
particular reminiscences of Californian summers, I do know that the room was
swimming with other visions and spirits, all channeled by the stirrings of
Jacob Fred's scenic improvisations. They were the music, we were the music,
all of out energies merged and danced and filled the wonderful space of a
world where numbers collapsed, and all was one. What amazes me is that this
seems to happen just about every time these wizards pick up their magical
instruments, which might be why they titled their recent album, All is One
- Live in New York City. It didn't have to be New York, or Nashville
either. With all of the truth, love and light filling the world, building
and bursting into Dionysian brilliance, the world itself disappears and
becomes undifferentiated bliss when these improvisational devotees conjure
their (our) sacred music.
Words by: C.J. BoyD
Images by: Super Dee
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