Have you ever been to one of those rare, out of the way shows where days, weeks, maybe months later you are still talking about it? Have you ever wondered why those shows aren't being released for the masses to consume? Well the latest offering from Tulsa, Oklahoma's Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is one of those shows. Symbiosis Osmosis captures this pioneering three-piece late at night at two very different music festivals. Almost the entire album was recorded in the wee hours during the New Orleans Jazz Festival on May third 2002 at what was most appropriately called SpazzFest. This monumental show occurred slightly outside the crusty confines of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. The Old Point Bar is across the river and a bit difficult to get to, but that was part of what made SpazzFest (and this recording) so special.
As I have enjoyed repeated listenings of this manic musical feast, memories of this amazing evening continue to surface. I can now remember the look on Les Claypool's face as he stood watching Reed Mathis take his tweaked-out instrument into areas that seem if not impossible, highly improbable, for a bass to travel. I can now also see John Medeski standing still, peering over the crowd to get a look at Brian Haas as he pounds the keys, hair bouncing, eyes closed and sounds pouring over the stage. I remember the way Skerik led the four-piece saxophone army (featuring in addition to Skerik on tenor, Frank Catalano on tenor, Mark Southerland on tenor, and Brad Houser on baritone) onto the tiny stage forcing all airwaves into a swirling mass of sound that at times became impossible to break down in the mind. I recall the tiny bar, with just the right amount of room to contort one's dancing limbs in time to the otherworldly sounds bombarding the brain. I remember sweating under the oppressive New Orleans humidity, and succumbing to the call of the musicians. Listening to this 15-track CD has done what a live recording should do--either bring the listener back to that night, or allow those who were not there a glimpse into the beauty of the performance. You see live shows, and most of what I truly enjoy about the musical experience, are just that--an experience, something that occurs at that exact moment, something that can never be duplicated or fully represented. You can not hope to grasp the power of SpazzFest through this CD, but you can close your eyes and imagine what it was like to have seven amazing musicians crammed onto a stage next to a Louisiana river with a handful of lucky patrons giving just as much to the band as the band was giving to them.
In light of this being a mere sampling of the over four-hour extravaganza that was their SpazzFest show, the Fred boys have taken the opportunity to throw in a track from their 2002 late night High Sierra Music Festival show and a few minutes from a 2003 Baton Rouge, LA concert. For the most part these two additions (which occur at the beginning of the CD) allow the band a human voice. Being an instrumental band, but a very opinionated and passionate one, these six minutes feature heavy playing and a few choice words from Rhodes piano and melodica man Brian Haas. Track one (from High Sierra) is called "Dubya! Stop Lying!" It starts with Haas saying, "This is dedicated to George W. Bush." From there the trio launch into true JFJO madness. Instantly Reed Mathis is in outer space. Less than a minute in and Reed is dancing in high register country, causing those unfamiliar with this inspirational bassist to likely ask who and what is making that noise. As Reed is picking space sounds out of left field with his effects-laden bass, Haas is taking no prisoners with driving bass lines being bumped out of his Rhodes piano. Meanwhile, as is always the case, drummer Jason Smart keeps everyone on target. Smart's ability to ground the virtuoso, groundbreaking performances of his band mates is what makes Jacob Fred work. Without his deft touch and ability to anticipate where these two are traveling the train would wreck and few morsels would survive. As track one ends and track two begins we get closure to Haas' introduction as he states, "This is dedicated to George W. Bush. This is an improvisation called 'We're Not Scared Of You Because We Believe in Karma and We Know You Are Lying.'"
JFJO by Hallie
The remainder of the show is all SpazzFest, and it's all mind-boggling. Track three is perhaps the only song that is not 100% free improvisation. This is in fact the only song ("Son Of Jah") that occurs anywhere else in the Jacob Fred catalogue. For the most part the entire CD (as is most of JFJO) is off the cuff, totally unplanned and truly astounding. The thought of being able to get on stage with little to no plan and create these improvisational dreams is at times too much to comprehend.
Reed Mathis by Hallie
After more space talk and high screaming bass notes that beg comparison to what Jimi Hendrix would perhaps do to a bass, the band moves into "Stride" (Track four), which finds them settling down and allowing Haas some time to explore the Rhodes as Mathis takes a break from space travel and hones in on a more traditional bass line. The song picks up pace and gives off the air of a carnival on acid before breaking into the world of horns.
At this point (Track five) we enter 34 minutes of saxophone-infused madness. As the name of the CD suggests ("symbiosis," a biological word referring to different organisms that assist one another, and "osmosis" which of course has to do with the gradual, often unconscious process of assimilation), this is truly a beneficial musical relationship between four saxophones and the three members of JFJO that allows each member to absorb the qualities of the other and push the whole to astounding heights. There are moments of stripped-down, more traditional movements, such as the meat of track five. Here Skerik leads the band through a pulsating segment that has a hint of Dixieland and even finds some scat atop the washes of sound. The recording is so intimate that you can hear members of the crowd yelping in appreciation as the horns spiral into the next track.
Skerik by Hallie
As the CD moves seamlessly from improvisation to improvisation (I can't call them songs, for they are not songs; they are impromptu expressions that can only be delineated as "tracks" or "improvisations"), it swells with the energy of the room, pushing and pulling, tumbling and bubbling over before floating back to a wash of saxophones and high-hat tinkering. There are times when Mathis takes a more formal approach, leading the crew with a steady bass, forming a rhythmic foundation with Smart that allows Haas to work the more ethereal areas of his piano, bludgeoning alien echoes from his keys, while the saxophones round out the sonic corners.
Again by allowing this CD to enter my subconscious I am taken back to the outrageous performance of Brian Haas with his eyes closed, matching Mathis in outbound excursions. They are clearly on a different plane, moving in areas that mere mortals can only try to understand. I am more often than not led to believe that perhaps these two are channeling remote conversations or at the very least attempting to communicate in means that are far more advanced than the spoken word. In the many, many years I have been traveling across the country and abroad for unique and inspirational musical engagements, the night this recording was predominately culled from remains one of the more important and poignant of my life. Different perhaps than the rock shows that have left me gasping for air, and certainly in contrast to the majority of tours I've engaged in, but impressive, necessary, and infinitely important to the maturation of my musical mind.
Brian Haas by Hallie
The addition of the four saxophones allows this JFJO offering to cover even more ground than their usual three-piece show. With ample time for each band member (minus Smart who remains rock steady and always in time) to solo and explore obscure areas of the night, it also features moments of pulsing, determined jazz. Each band member takes a crack at more melodic phrases mixed heavily with percussive smacks. There are call/response areas and free-jazz squawks. We get hard hitting bass lines and heavily processed guitar lines. This is the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey doing what they do... pushing music, creating moments of brilliance amidst chaos.
It's true (and somewhat unfortunate) that many jam and jazz fans may not be able to relate to this amazing music (proof in the fact that JFJO have been blowing minds for ten years and are still not playing theaters), but it's never too late to catch wind of music with no boundaries. For jazz aficionados and those prone to more traditional excursions, Jason Smart on drums may be the only element that can be fully grasped. But for those willing to keep pace with where jazz is going, not only where it has been, this is an improvisational walk into the future, one full of horns, effects, sweaty plucks, and angular plinks. This is music for a new millennium.
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