Week 4 of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's Tuesday night residency at Harper's Ferry began slightly different, this time with special guest-of-the-week David Fiuczynski’s band Kif (pronounced "Keef") opening things up. Kif was a high-octane trio, quickly shifting gears through jazz and fusion to drum and bass and back again. Fuze is a nimble guitarist with many styles and a good sense of humor. I enjoyed his short set and could see why this guy had been invited to play with the trio called Jacob Fred.
The trio began the evening with an original Reed Mathis tune about “leaving one’s body and flying up over one’s head and looking down at one’s own hair, or lack thereof.” A very mellow high-pitched Reed intro and a bouncy Brian in the background made for a fun tune. Some highly spirited playing from Reed had his instrument sounding like everything from a violin to an organ. The rest of the tune really had the band meandering a bit but did serve as a nice introduction and, seemed to tell the audience this was going to be a fun night.
Brian led the way on the next tune, with some beautiful soloing on his old beat up, “reconditioned” nine times, Rhodes piano that would have done Thelonious himself proud. It was evident Brian was trying to communicate to the audience on a higher level with his playing this evening. Show after show and I’m still amazed watching this man play his piano. The improvisation skills he has attained are incredible and obviously require great dexterity along with great intelligence and thoughtfulness. For a band like Jacob Fred to make music like this means they honestly care about the music and truly that only. The proof is right there, you just gotta listen for it. How many bands can you think of that would cash in, put it all on the line and step out on a path across America, supported only by the weird music they create with their own hands and feet and never even think twice about it? It’s really no wonder why U.S. News and World Report called JFJO the #1 New Star of Jazz in America.
The song segued into a quite mellow, enthralling Jason Smart drum solo that lasted almost 10 minutes. Quietly creeping back into the tune, Mathis then made his bass sound like the psychedelic keyboards from the intro to the Who song “Who Are You,” quite a neat little trick. Next tune up was about the old neighborhood squirrel from back in Tulsa, a “sweet little creature named Nibbles who happens to eat all-organic pecans.” The thought of a little squirrel out there with a Fred tune named after him and him probably not knowing about it began to drive me crazy. But the music was entertaining and quickly took my mind off of my dilemma. "Nibbles" is one of my favorites of the band’s new tunes, it displays their originality, creative approach to songwriting and song titling, and their unique way of trading leads with each other.
For me personally, past Fred shows have culminated in the idea that an interesting side effect to the music of Jacob Fred is the fact that it makes you think. Since there are almost never any words, pictures are formed in my mind as the music plays. Certain notes and certain sounds evict certain images and certain moods. The Fred’s music is so careful and so thoughtful it almost makes one a better thinker by osmosis.
As promised, “Nibbles” was short and Brian then quickly welcomed to stage the “world famous” David Fiuczynski, who introduced himself by commenting, “I wish these guys were a little more outgoing.” He got a great laugh and then back to Brian who informed the crowd that this next improvisation was going to be called “Why does the fact that Dick Cheney owns an oil company called Halliburton control the United States entire foreign policy,’ that’s the name of this next song, Dave and I wrote it about five minutes ago.”
Always interested to see a new guitarist play with my favorite guitar-less trio, I intently watched the stage. Fuze fit in immediately, going up and down the neck of his guitar with some nice jazz scales. When the tempo switched to a more bluesy theme, he responded in kind, developing an instant rapport with the trio members. Never bashful, Fuze approached the night with reckless abandon and had Brian yelling out his encouragement. He was immediately a good match for the band, and when he pulled out his slide he damn near matched the ferocity of Brian Haas’s playing.
This tune was all about the conversation, with Fuze doing most of the talking and proving himself to be quite an eloquent conversationalist. Fuze struck me as a rock guitarist trapped in a jazz guitarist's body, and he seemed to shift the normal theme of JFJO’s playing to a more rockish and laid back one. There were many styles to his performance, and I particularly enjoyed his Indian influenced playing. Some jazz noodlings along with more Middle Eastern influenced playing in the next tune had me convinced that he was a top-notch player.
We were then treated to an “India” by John Coltrane, which seems to have become a band favorite as well as a crowd favorite. The band locked into a tight, mellow groove before allowing for an extended improvisational jam that featured Brian, Reed and Fuze each taking turns soloing on their respective instruments. JFJO tried to call it a night after that, but the crowd wouldn’t let them leave and beckoned them back to stage for an encore. They came back up and played the last improv of the evening, this time titled “I Sleep With a Crocodile Who is Warm and Loving.” A raucous, groovin’ jam gave the crowd its last chance of the evening to dance, and left them thinking only of next week and the magic that would begin all over again.
Words by Sam Katz
JamBase | Boston
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