Giants have a lush, infinitely deep pedigree: the children of Gaia, procreated by love but with a warrior's intent. Or they might be the accidental product of Uranus' spilled blood when his son Chronos castrated him. Always they are linked to the Titans, Earth's first rulers and toilers within the ground, the makers of enchanted spears and magic helmets. Wise old Webster further illuminates these plus-size creatures, calling them "one that is gigantic in size or power; one that stands out for greatness of achievement." Taken together, the blood and the gods and the magic, the mystical and the creative, the earth and the sky, I can think of few better metaphors for the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, who fearlessly plant their own human-sized steps in the footprints of giants on their first acoustic studio release.

Brian Haas (piano), Reed Mathis (acoustic bass, octave pedal-induced bass, cello, sitar, acoustic 12-string guitar) and Jason Smart (drums, percussion) are the forefront of jazz today, laboring to shape the grand, amorphous shapes within their music into something sharp and intimate as a knife. They quite literally have an edge that cuts quick and true on compositions like "Daily Wheatgrass Shots" and "Skeeball Over The Ocean." They possess all the instrumental daring-do of the Bad Plus or Medeski Martin & Wood plus a profound and affecting knack for memorable original material. Their music is like a great book or a classic film, able to move us to tears or laughter, often in the space of a few minutes. With the electric crackle turned down, piano front and center, this emotional potency has never been more apparent.

Much of this material will be familiar to anyone who's spent time in a concert hall with the boys, which makes it all the more impressive that they've managed to lay down defining renditions of staples like "Calm Before The Storm" and "Muppet Babies Get Lost At The State Fair." Giants puts forth their best foot in as fluid and shimmering a manner as posterity could ever hope for. From the first hard crack of Smart's fills on the opener right through the incandescent shuffle of closer "Hover," the band is never less than compelling. The title cut is a force of nature, graceful winds dancing with trees and children. "Perfect Wife's Flannel PJs" is like waking up from Monk's Dream next to the one you love most. "Hover" encapsulates the longing of the angels in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire--to be human, to seek incarnation, losing immortality but gaining the joys of meals shared and hands held. At times, it's all too beautiful in a world grown ugly. JFJO exists on a ground of reality where the soil is warm to the touch and the breezes whisper and moan. Reed's note-perfect production captures all of this. Listen and let your own poetic rhapsodies pour out as you try to describe this music to yourself and others.

A bonus DVD of four performances from Yoshi's in Oakland, CA this past March lets us see the joy they experience watching one another, creating in the moment, soaring higher than their wax wings should ever allow. We get to see Mathis "channel Hendrix." His use of octave pedals and other effects could be seen as a gimmick, but they're merely tools to help him reveal his true voice, a sound that will shape the future of jazz bass. That he's paired with two musicians of equally stunning skill is no small thing. Haas has the relentless drive of John Hicks combined with the fringe appetites of Cecil Taylor. His 88-key abuse shouldn't shine like it does but the sheer physicality of his playing brings on a hailstorm of chaos and loveliness that's hard to pin down. He sounds like himself more than anyone else. The same holds true for drummer Jason Smart, who increasingly makes me think he's the spiritual descendent of Art Blakey, a player of huge chops and power who understands the potency of restraint and how listening to your bandmates is better than talking over them. The DVD gives us a bird's eye view of their interaction. The level of communication, without words, on "Slow Breath Silent Mind" and "Pacific," is staggering to behold.

Walking With Giants is a class act. It's a gold leaf leather-bound beauty any fan of jazz should have in their collection. It announces the maturation of one of the most promising acts going today, shows them ready, willing, and able to become the musicians and composers the Creator put them on Earth to be. They have all the elements necessary to become a trio equivalent to legends like the Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette trio or even the legendary Bill Evans/Scott LaFaro/Paul Motian group. Not only is this one of the best jazz albums to come along in ages, it's also a work that traverses spaces far beyond any single genre. Giants is stuffed with big dreams and a fearless attitude, a work that moves us like a fable, lingering in our thoughts long after the last notes drift away.

Dennis Cook
JamBase | Oakland
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[Published on: 9/27/04]

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