By Sam Katz
The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey covering Bjork and the Beatles? The Flaming Lips and Brian Wilson? One would think playing Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck would be more up this band’s alley, but they do that and more on their latest album, The Sameness of Difference.
People familiar with the band will undoubtedly be surprised to find a JFJO album of more covers than originals, especially a bunch of pop covers. But when something works, it works, and in this case, The Fred make these songs all their own. This album is a radical departure from their previous studio releases in more ways than one. Recorded more acoustic than electric, this is a much more relaxed and calm Jacob Fred than ever before. There is none of that rambunctious, chaotic, madness JFJO fans all over have come to treasure; instead, there is a more mature and melodic sound in its place.
Beginning with their haunting take of the Jimi Hendrix tune "Have You Ever Been to Electric Ladyland," the band dives right into this project with a ferocious concentration and focus. An idea that was originally conceived by legendary producer Joel Dorn as an album of all jazz standards, it grew to include cover versions of contemporary songs as well. Regardless of who they’re covering, this album has taken on a life of its own and has JFJO playing in a fashion I’ve not yet heard from them. Perhaps not as exciting as previous releases, this album will definitely serve to showcase their tremendous skill and creative expression, as well as a certain grace and maturity well beyond their years together.
Brian Haas’s piano assault on the Reed Mathis-penned "The Maestro" is a strong showing of his talent on the keys. As I’m sure many a listener, including myself, has grown accustomed to from the craziness Haas usually displays on the Rhodes piano, it’s a marked contrast to hear him on a piano without effects pedals or distortion. It gives Haas’s playing a genuine freedom and clarity, allowing the listener to properly gauge just how talented a piano player this man truly is. Reed Mathis shows off his own god-given talents on many a track as well, soloing away with his octave-induced bass, doing things no one has ever even thought to do. Mathis makes Neil Young’s "Don’t Let it Bring You Down" and the Beatles’ "Happiness is A Warm Gun" all his own. When covering the deep end, Mathis shines as well, particularly on Charles Mingus’s "Fables of Faubus." Of course, the glue that ties it all together is Jason Smart, a monster drummer with very gentle hands. His playing, while subtle, really shows his understanding of this band and the level of communication these three have achieved together. It is remarkable that he only joined the band full time a few years ago.
Plainly put, this is a different, more polished JFJO than ever before. If this is where evolution has taken this band, it will be interesting to see where it goes in the future. Even if covers are not your thing, than simply check out The Sameness of Difference to hear the contrast in their playing and the new personality this band has cultivated with this release.
JamBase | Boston
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