JFJO AT HARPER'S: WEEK 3 WITH GARZONE

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey | Harper's Ferry | Allston, MA | Week Three

I would like to begin this week’s review with a little background info on Mr. George Garzone, because I was amazed with his playing and equally amazed (and maybe slightly embarrassed) that as a native Bostonian I had never even heard of him. Where to begin on George Garzone... After some quick on-line research, I realized that this guy really is a living legend. He has played and recorded with some huge names over the last 30 years or so, including Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, George Russell and Joshua Redman, as well as his former teacher Joseph Viola. Garzone has acted as a sideman to Danilo Perez, George Russell, Gunther Schuller, Rachel Z, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart, and even Jamaaladeen Tacuma. And to top it all off, Garzone has been playing with his own band, Boston-based The Fringe, along with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Bob Gulotti, for more than 32 years, much to the delight of fans who have been in on the secret for years.

Mr. Garzone has recorded on more than 20 records throughout his long career, both as a sideman and as a leader. Garzone graduated from Berklee College of Music in 1972, where his son also currently studies, and has since been on the faculty as an Associate Professor, teaching saxophone, clarinet and flute, as well as instructing at the New England Conservatory of Music and New York University. In addition to his trademark tenor saxophone, Garzone plays soprano and alto saxophones and he swears by Rico Reeds.

Apparently garnering Garzone was something of a dream come true for the Fred boys, as they hold Garzone in the same light as say, John Coltrane. And comparisons to Coltrane are certainly fair, with some hints of Charlie Parker thrown in, but Garzone’s got a style completely his own. This man plays with as much emotion as anyone I’ve ever seen, and somehow one can feel it’s completely genuine. Whether laying out a solo of his own, or standing on stage enjoying the work of his peers, you can see that Garzone is truly in his element and really having fun. He never once rushed anything on stage and really has a strong patience, very carefully choosing the right moments to add in his contribution to the sound. What’s become interesting to me each week is to watch and see how each guest player manages to fit themselves into the overall sound of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Watching Garzone, I could clearly see that he felt very comfortable in this stage setting and it was just like any other night on the job for him.

The night started off as usual, with the trio kicking things off. This time they opened with "Walking With Giants," originally written about walking in the giant Redwoods forest, but at this point is as much about getting the chance to essentially play with "Giants" like George Garzone. And Garzone was equally thrilled to play with JFJO. When I asked him to describe the boys in one word he said, as many a native New Englander might, it was "awesome." I couldn’t agree more myself, except that I thought it was wicked awesome. In fact when Garzone was asked to participate in this gig by JFJO's manager, he had never even heard of the band before. According to George: "They called me out of the blue, their manager, and I was actually in Philly playing at a college. And they just called me and they had a good vibe, they were really cool, the manager was cool. I’d never heard of them and then they sent me a CD package. My son had heard of them, because he’s into that kind of stuff. But I just put the CD on and try to go for the first sound I hear that attracts me. And they were right on the shit from the beginning. They were really great."

On the next tune, Brian stood up and announced that "The Maestro" was coming to the stage, and up came Mr. Garzone. Garzone led the way on the first tune he had ever played with the boys, by way of a beautiful introductory solo. Brian picked up on it quickly, gently playing his keys and coaxing a vibraphone-like sound out of them. Reed was playing his cello for this tune and squeaked out some cool sounds of his own. It was fascinating to watch the interaction between Garzone and JFJO because Garzone never really played at their pace, he took it at his own pace and seemed quite serene and tranquil on stage. He would fit his parts in very carefully, waiting for the exact right time to blow. At one point Brian just sat back and watched Garzone in awe. It was obvious that this was something of a dream come true for him.

Brian introduced the next tune by saying, "For us going to church is going to see The Fringe at the Lizard Lounge on Mondays." Brian then named this soon-to-be-played improv "We Like Going to Church With Pastor George." Another great title, but also one that seemed to be quite accurate. Garzone really did seem to be the pastor on stage, pulling the boys into his "church." He almost seemed like a mentor up there, even though he had never played with the band before and had only met them a few short weeks ago. Garzone seemed to set the pace on stage, pulling the band more towards traditional jazz than in any other week thus far. I would describe Garzone’s playing as mellow, yet intense and soulful at the same time. He seemed to split his solos, some being melodic, and some leaning more towards free jazz. Garzone has obviously played with some great musicians before and tonight was no different. Out of all the special guests so far, Garzone seemed to fit with the band the best, almost like he was a full-time member. It became quite evident on stage, the manner in which the Fred boys hold Garzone.

The next tune saw Garzone take a break and Brad Barr of The Slip come up on stage and take his place. I’m beginning to realize the stamina of this group more and more, as they never leave the stage for a break but their special guests do each week. Apparently, keeping up with Jacob Fred is not an easy task for even the most experienced stage veteran. The quartet then launched into crowd favorite "Time Is Now." Brad and Reed quickly started into a conversation of their own, each tapping their instrument and emitting loud, high-pitched sounds, almost exactly the way R2-D2 talks in Star Wars. Jason took a drum solo at one point and looking at him I couldn’t help feeling like he was this mad, plotting scientist, looking around and testing out what sounds would evoke what feelings and emotions on stage and in the rest of the room. The quartet then launched into "Thelonious Monk is my Grandmother," by way of special request. After some discussions on stage about what to play next, the band decided to bring Garzone back up and leave just him and Jason on stage for an aptly titled improv called "The Duel of True Love." Garzone relished the opportunity and also seemed to really enjoy and respect Jason’s drumming. They divided up the lead, with each player letting fly some amazing solos.

This improv lasted only about ten minutes or so, and then everyone hopped back on stage, including Brad. Justin Tomsovic of the Inner Orchestra came on stage and traded places with Jason. The new arrival on drums seemed to be more rhythm orientated and initially seemed to stick to the snare mostly, possibly slightly nervous. But Justin provided an excellent beat for the band, and Brad started to really let loose on this tune, which had Garzone watching and really diggin’ his chops. Justin then took a drum solo and Garzone started to really get into it himself. He let loose some scorching solos, very free in nature and quite jazzy, in a traditional sense. At this point in the evening, Garzone was clearly in his element. They ended the evening with yet another special request, "As it Will Be."

I later asked Justin what the highlight of the evening was and he quickly answered, "The highlight was to play with Garzone! Garzone, Garzone! I’ve said this a couple times already tonight, but, when I was playing the shit, like I was playing with Garzone, when I’ve done that alone just in the practice room I would imagine... basically what just happened. When we did it, it was like it’s really happening, it’s really happening, oh my god! Yah man, I’m just on cloud nine, it was so fucking intense." Yet another dream come true for a young musician.

Talking with Garzone later, I asked him what he thought of the evening overall and he had this to say: "They’re wonderful, they’re very earthy guys and they’re really cool. They’re mellow young guys, they don’t have any ego or anything like that. I love playing with people that give me a good feeling you know, and they’re honest. And they listen too, they’re good musicians man, they really listen you know." "Good conversationalists, if you will?" I interjected. "Totally," he said. "They came to The Fringe for the last two or three weeks, checked the shit out to get the vibe, you know. They were wonderful, I really enjoyed it."

Everyone else in the room, especially the other players, very much enjoyed watching Garzone work as well. Watching an artist like Garzone work is like watching poetry in motion. Garzone’s playing is so soulful and honest, watching him I couldn’t help feeling like he really was bearing his soul to all of us out there. Garzone’s playing conjures up images of great things past: John Coltrane performing in New York City, Cannonball Adderley live in San Francisco. Something about Garzone beckons of the past; his playing seems to be a bridge between classic and contemporary jazz. Now that I’m in on the secret, I will definitely be checking out Garzone and The Fringe as soon as I get the chance, and I recommend you do the same thing. See you next week!

Words by Sam Katz
Images by Dr. Matt Roberts and Sam Katz
JamBase | Boston
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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey | Harper's Ferry | Allston, MA | Week Two

I asked Sam Kinninger if he could describe the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey in one word. You know what he said? "Freedom." And isn’t that what it’s really all about? Ideally, in any situation you’re involved in, you would like to have some form of freedom; like for instance, when you’re playing live music. Isn’t it exciting when you go see a band and you never know what the hell is going to happen? Yah, maybe the band will have an off night and maybe you won’t see anything too exciting that particular night, but you’ll keep coming back and seeing the same band again and again. And that’s what I’m getting at, it’s that excitement, that chance that you’re going to see some of that freedom in action, which could lead to anything, could take you to another galaxy if you let it. Well, if you’re the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey that freedom is what you desire, what you seek out; it is the reason you play music.

On this particular snowy Tuesday evening (oh, Boston in April!) Mr. Kinninger came down because he wanted to "incorporate some things that I’ve always wanted to do with a band that would allow me to do it. Basically." Elaborating on why he decided to join JFJO for the evening, besides the fact that the Fred asked him personally, he went on: "...jazz that encompasses freedom within structure. There are definitely boundaries, it’s not completely free, you have a set boundary and you go crazy inside that boundary and that’s what I like. And I got a chance to do that tonight. It was a lot of fun, it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time, to be honest. It’s all about listening. Straight conversation. I wasn’t just doing whatever I wanted; I was definitely listening to everyone else and trying to get the most out of what was happening at the time. That was my first time playing with them and it was a great experience. Loved it." Me too.

And then there was the music. Coming into the show, I was definitely curious about just how different this week would be from the last. The music definitely took a turn from the prior week; there was a major contrast between the two. Last week, with Steve Kimock, was more of a relaxed evening. Yes, there were certainly flashes of JFJO madness, but Kimock kept them more grounded than normal. This week, the boys went all-out with their special brand of Fred craziness.

We started the music off with teases of "Skiball," a tune that was introduced live for the first time at the now defunct 608 (formerly Lili’s) in Somerville, MA on March 10th of last year. "Skiball" quickly made its way into an extended improvisation, with Brian Haas being the first member to really dig in and make his presence felt. He was off to the races immediately, leading the way into a loud, raucous jam that had my ears squealing. Yet in the midst of all the chaos going on around him (that he is of course partially responsible for), Jason Smart on drums always manages to keep everything fresh. Just when the jam is about to explode, out of the madness you begin to hear a vibrant, new beat coming in quick from the distance, and Mr. Smart has started everything over again. Smart keeps an amazing beat, which is not an easy task with a band like JFJO because there are so many different sounds coming at you at one time. With rhythms and tempos that stop and start on a dime, Reed and Brian seem to have finally met their match in Jason Smart. I see this trio as being completely and utterly born to make music with each other.

We got one more original tune performed by the trio themselves, "Lovejoy," a composition by bassist extraordinaire Reed Mathis, and then Brian stood up and introduced Sam Kinninger to the stage. Brian then stepped off stage for a brief meeting with another pair of special guests who had literally just walked in from their own show right down the road at the Paradise Rock Club. More on that in a minute. Sam came on stage and he, Reed and Jason began to lay down a mean groove. Brian couldn’t stay off stage for long and came hopping back up, with some more special guests in tow. It was at this point that the audience was treated to a triple attack on the Rhodes piano, courtesy of Brian, Marco Benevento and Rob Marscher of Addison Groove Project. At first, Sam and Reed were kind of just chillin’, taking in the whole scene, until Sam felt the need himself and hopped into the mix, really letting loose on the sax for the first time of the evening. Then Reed decided he was missing out on that keyboard action, and we actually had four people on keys at once! This was more of a novelty to watch than a presentation of amazing keyboard playing, but nevertheless had the crowd going crazy. Neither of the special guests were really able to get into it and actually let loose on the piano, but it was certainly fun to watch, and I sure got some great pictures out of it. Brian appropriately dubbed this improv "Ouch, Touch It."

As Marco and Rob left the stage, it turned into the quartet of JFJO plus Sam Kinninger. They then went into "3 Splattered Eggs" (I think?) and Sam got his chance to shine. Sam clearly began to feel very comfortable at this time and laid back in the cut smiling until it was his turn to go crazy. The jam turned into a conversation between Reed, Sam and Brian. Reed started it all off by morphing the sound of his bass, through his five magical foot pedals, into a shrieking banshee, with Sam responding in turn and then passing it on to Brian, who was playing furiously all night long. The "conversation" between these three was incredible and really demonstrated what Sam was talking about above. The patience, the timing and the playing skill were quite evident during this jam. It really required the players to listen to each other and actually respond.

Brian and Reed left the stage for the next tune, "Shades of Jade" by Joe Henderson, leaving just Sam and Jason to take things to the next level. This was interesting as this is quite a common pairing in the jazz world, but not necessarily anywhere else. This tune showcased the playing skills of Kinninger, who essentially led the whole tune with his sax. Becoming the focal point of the jam, Kinninger clearly held his own with some fast paced soloing. As the jam escalated up and down, Sam was very patient, fitting in his parts nicely and never rushing anything. He can be quite a melodic player at times and I wouldn’t necessarily call his style straight jazz. There is more of a commercial appeal to Sam’s playing, people who aren’t necessarily into jazz can still enjoy his it. (He has clearly been polishing his skills on the road with and without Soulive, and he actually has a solo album, his first, dropping soon.) This jam escalated into an extended, mesmerizing Smart drum solo. It’s really a pleasure to watch Jason play the drums, because he gets into it so much yet never loses his cool demeanor. His gentle touch works the kit so effortlessly, yet so effectively, and he always manages to keep his beats so fresh and so clean.

The next tune saw Jason leave the stage and another special guest, Sir Joe Russo, come in and takes his place on the kit. This tune was announced as "Skogie Smalls," written by Reed, Brian and Joe, and recorded by the three on vinyl, in NYC, the only tune ever recorded by JFJO on vinyl. Reed later told me that at the time this song was recorded, Joe Russo was actually their drummer, if only for the span of about a month or so. It was quite interesting to hear the contrast between Jason and Joe, who is more a rock drummer than a jazz drummer. While they both certainly keep the jams fresh, and both fit really well into the JFJO sound, Russo pounds the skins as compared to Jason who plays more gingerly. However, it was evident that these three had played together before, as Joe immediately locked into a groove with them. "Skogie Smalls" turned out to be a great tune, with a hip-hoppish bounce to it. I actually wanted to jump on stage and bust a freestyle, but I played it safe and opted not to. At one point in the song, Russo took his own extended drum solo and Brian and Reed happily sat back and watched, possibly thinking back to the old days in New York.

The next tune, and the last of the night, was yet another improv that Brian this time dubbed "A True Patriot Questions Our Lying Government." That also happens to be the catch phrase of a new line of bumper stickers that JFJO has been giving out free at concerts. The one I received the week before was promptly stickered onto my car, as I couldn’t agree more with the message conveyed within. Reed strapped on the cello for this one. This was classic JFJO at its best. Sam was still enjoying himself and was able to get in a few more solos before calling it a night. It was during this song that I saw Reed take the most amazing cello solo I’d ever seen. His hands moved up and down the cello, using every note he could pull from that beautiful instrument. It was very melodic however, much different than the solos he normally takes from his Fender jazz bass. I caught the Duo watching from side stage, exchanging amazed glances and laughing to each other. I noticed that even Brian was watching amazed, which says a lot considering that these two have been playing together for ten years. It really proves that what Reed is doing on the bass is so incredibly exploratory, if someone he’s been playing with for so long can still be amazed and surprised by his playing. I wasn’t sure if the boys would be able to top last week’s episode with Steve Kimock, but I think they did. It’s hard to say that this week was better than last week, as they were totally different, but the energy this week was impassioned and unstoppable. Can’t wait ‘til next week!

Sam Katz
Images by Dr. Matt Roberts and Sam Katz
JamBase | Boston
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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey | Harper's Ferry | Allston, MA | Week One

There were a lot of firsts last night at Harper's Ferry in beautiful, downtown Allston, MA. It was the first night of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's Tuesday night April residency at the club and, if this is a sign of things to come, you can count me in every week until the end of April. It was the first time that Steve Kimock has ever played at Harper's Ferry. It was the first time Steve had ever played with the full band (he played with Reed and Jason on last Halloween in Arkansas). This was the first time I’ve ever seen Reed play the guitar, which incidentally was a gorgeous 1961 Gibson acoustic. Beautiful. It was the first time in many a Fred show - and this is the big one - that I’ve seen words performed on stage with the music. This was a historic show in more ways than one, and it also just so happened to be a great time.

We started off the night rather unconventionally, with Reed making his way onstage with only an acoustic guitar, joined moments later by Kimock, who was playing a hollow body, electric, tie-dyed guitar. Reed started to strum a rather mellow tune and Steve interjected with some rather mellow soloing of his own. All of sudden, Reed steps to the mic and starts... SINGING! Yes, you heard me right: there was actually singing at a Jacob Fred show! After the tune, Reed asked if anyone knew what song it was or who sang it. No one said anything, including myself, and Reed promptly said "That’s right" in a joking manner into the microphone and then said, "It’s not Bob Dylan," prompting all the old war protesters in the room into yelling out their guesses. I will also assume that this was the first time JFJO had ever covered Joni Mitchell, though I didn’t catch the name of the tune.

As the other members (Brian Haas on Rhodes piano and Jason Smart on drums) came to the stage, they went into a song that I thought sounded familiar, but clearly wasn't a Fred tune. It was Kimock’s own composition, "Up to You." According to Mr. Kimock: "To just sort of break the ice, Reed suggested we play 'Up to You,' or something like that, so we played 'Up to You' and that was wonderful. And then we just took off to the races!" True indeed. The night began with Steve bringing them into the Kimock zone, but it wasn't long before that special JFJO madness began to ooze out. Clearly enjoying the jam, Kimock really began to dig his chops in. It seemed that Steve was giving the boys a little quick schooling in Jamology 101.

The second song (and first JFJO original) to emerge was the crowd favorite "Thelonious Monk is My Grandmother." Thank goodness for the weirdos, because without them we wouldn’t have music like this or songs with names like that. Reed was on fire from the beginning of the tune. After Brian laid out the beginning, Reed literally took over. He was a soloing freak, emitting high pitched squealing sounds from his bass guitar; I stress the word guitar. Reed plays the bass by making it sound like every instrument it’s not, so when a normal bass sound comes from him it’s almost strange. In the beginning of the tune, Kimock almost seemed like he wasn’t sure what to do. Almost. After talking to Jason and thinking back myself, I realized that it wasn’t at all that he didn’t know what to do, he was just looking for the right sound and the right moment to fit in his contribution, which is probably a lot harder than it looks playing with a band like Fred. Although it was definitely a challenge for Steve to find his parts.

A few minutes into the song, Reed broke a string and, after doing so, literally attacked his instrument with a new ferocity which brought a big grin to Kimock’s face. At that point, Reed left the stage to attend to his bass, which left Kimock in charge of the jam and he really stepped up. He started soloing like I really haven’t seen him do before. Maybe hanging with the Fred guys was starting to take its toll, because at this point Kimock was literally attacking his instrument! He laid out some sweet solos and did this one trick where he kept hitting the neck of his guitar repeatedly with the pick, creating a funnel of guitar noise. Reed hopped back up on stage and he and Kimock had a sonic noise conversation of sorts. I later called it a duel, but Kimock corrected me by saying it was more "weaving than a duel," but did admit that it was fun. Somehow after that "duel," the music turned into a funk jam of sorts.

On to John Coltrane's "India," which was a mellow, jazz tune. Reed picked up his cello for this one, and while I was waiting for him to pull out the bow, he simply strapped it on like it was a guitar and proceeded to play it like it was just another bass. Another JFJO first for me. Kimock again was soloing away, which had Brian leaning back and just enjoying the music. This was the first time Brian had played with Steve, and Jason and Reed had warned him that it would be something special. Brian really nailed it when he told me that playing with Steve was "creamy and delicious." And good for your health.

After that, Kimock took a quick break and the trio went into the new Jason Smart composition, "Slow Breath Silent Mind," a tune about evolution. A good strong tune, I’m sure this one will find its way into regular rotation at JFJO’s shows. Kimock took about fifteen minutes then came back down to join the band. Then on to a long improv jam, aptly titled (by Brian at the end) "George Bush is Definitely Lying." Named, or themed, improv jams are one part of the JFJO experience that I’ve come to love. Usually towards the end of the show, the Fred just makes up an improv jam and names it. Sometimes they call out for ideas/names for the improv before they start, sometimes Brian names it after they finish. Tonight, Brian might already have had the name in mind, but it certainly worked well, considering how many of us feel about the U.S. action in the Middle East and Iraq.

That pretty much rounded up the night, and things got a little fuzzy right around there. In fact, there was actually no official encore, another JFJO first for me. But we really didn’t need one after that marathon set. I later asked Kimock what the highlight of the night was for him, if any, and he replied: "I thought it was all kind of wonderful." I couldn’t agree more. On this evening, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Steve Kimock were a perfect match for each other.

Words by: Sam Katz
Images by: Kevin Haas
JamBase | Boston
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 5/8/03]

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