You may have noticed some JamBase excitement lately around the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Last night at the Hotel Utah, JFJO made their triumphant return to the Bay Area for the best performance I've seen yet in 2001. It was a Thursday Night Thriller at this little gem of a venue in San Francisco's South of Market area. This band has been to our lovely city on two other occasions (July 26, 2000 at the Great American, opening for Liquid Soul, and November 22, 2000 at Broadway Studios, opening for the B-Side Players) but this time, the stage was all theirs.
Who is the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey? If you don't know them yet, learn their name now because you will be immediately overcome by their passionate and innovative sound. While their lineup and experimental free jazz sound is reminiscent of Medeski, Martin & Wood, the Fred have a style all their own. Call it "mad jazz" or even "innovative cosmic wheatgrass insanity" or whatever you want, just don't miss them the next time you see them within driving distance.
Currently (and usually) out on tour, these guys originally met up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is where they live now. Once upon a time, JFJO was an eight man band with each member on two or three instruments including horns, keys, sound effects... whatever they could get their hands on. Over the past 7 years or so, they have pared it down to a trio consisting of Brian Haas on Fender Rhodes piano, Matthew Edwards on drums, and Reed Mathis on bass. Don't you start to think that less men equals less power. The electricity created on their stage would definitely help solve the current energy crisis in our area.
It was JamBase Fan Appreciation Night at the Hotel Utah and the buzz was an extemely happy one before the show. Friends and music lovers came out to share in the groove in this intimate setting. Being a very small venue, the room was comfortably packed by the time the Fred took the stage - and take the stage they did. Right from the start the audience was shown what this band is all about. They opened the set with Lost in Las Vegas, a tune that they created on stage in, you guessed it, Vegas. Turning this spontaneous improv into a band favorite, this song demostrated the stunning bass work of Reed Mathis. He played a RIPPING guitar solo and they you look and say, "Wait! That's a BASS!" There was no holding back by keyboardist Brian Haas. This first tune left bloody fingers and broken strings in it's wake. No kidding... the very first tune.
The rest of the set continued to be a compelling look into the madness of this music as they moved on to a song called Seven Inch Six. Brian and Reed have a reciprocal relationship in the band, trading turns on the bass line and tearing the solos apart with their intensity. When it's Brian's turn on those nasty low tones, you can see the passion pouring out onto the low end of the Rhodes as he plays each note so deliberately. While this is going on, there's Reed right across the stage playing such beautifully grooving guitar riffs on that bass, using his "BAWL" pedal to create that unique sound. Matt is all the while is keeping it all together with his everchanging tempos and times, smashing all of his cymbals with power and beautiful rage. The crowd was delighted as they played two more originals, Sandy Upton and The Arrival.
It was at this point that their music made me feel like I was in a nightmare. And I mean this in the best possible way. It's the kind of nightmare that's exciting and scary, yet safe, because deep down you know it's just a dream. Like a good thriller, the music of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is filled with suspense and intensity. To close the set, they gave us a masterful Tunjito > Singapore > Tunjito which featured more incredible bass work by Reed. This time it was an actual bass solo and one that had some of the speediest thumping I've ever seen. (Reed told me later that he had a lot of Green Tea before the set that made him a little jumpy...) While over in the other corner, Brian is unassumingly playing around with some light notes. Then, look out! There he goes again thrashing around, slapping those keys so hard and making everyone in the room wonder where the hell this guy came from! I happened to be standing right in front of his keyboards and I was beginning to worry that he was going to knock them over right on top of me. As one music fan said to me as his jaw dropped to the floor, "If John Medeski is a sorcerer, than Brian Haas is definitely a wizard!"
Nothing is more satisfying than coming out to see a band you've never seen before that impresses even the hardest of critics early in the first set. There were great feelings in the room during the set break. People were winning free posters created by our good friend, the talented Ryan Kerrigan. There was a loving vibe in the air and the fans felt the appreciation. The band even kicked down some copies of their last album for giveaway as door prizes.
The guys returned to the stage after healing wounds and fixing strings and immediately broke into No Method, an incredible tune written by Reed just last week. The crowd was getting loose now, and tables were shifted around to create a decent space for busting new moves. Pacific and Muskogee Smalls spread more smiles across the room as Brian and Reed continued their explosive top line trading. The highlight of the evening, for me, came next as the band went into a tune called The Time is Now. Reed's bass work in this tune resulted in jaws dropping to the ground as he "slapped" the hell out of his instrument for almost the entirety of the song. It was not your regular slap-slap-slap of the bass. The power and skill that went into this amazing display of madness made me stare in awe. When they finished this tune, Matt got up from behind the drums and announced to the crowd that he had to make a pit stop as he ran from the stage. I took this opportunity to ask Reed what he called that "slapping" technique. He didn't have a name for it but he let me touch the nasty blister that he had just created on the heel of his hand - *sigh*.
Being a school night, the room was beginning to thin out but the energy remained constant. The rest of the set featured the songs Critters, which is dedicated to Critters Buggin, Lost At The State Fair (there's that nightmare element again), and Roused About, a Branford Marsalis cover - the only cover song they played all night. They encored with an appropriate Three Splattered Eggs and the splattered trio thanked the audience kind heartedly and we thanked them right back. An incredible night of music was experienced by everyone in that room.
Not only are these guys first rate musicians, but they are phenomenal guys who love jazz, appreciate beauty, and perform their art in such an innovative way. They bring a very cosmic element to their combusting sound experiment. At the same time, they remain totally down-to-earth, with feet planted firmly on the ground and their heads screwed straight on. The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey move on up the coast this weekend with a show at Cafe Tomo in Arcata tonight (Friday), the Mt. Tabor Theatre in Portland on Saturday, and The Rainbow in Seattle on Sunday. Find out where they are playing near you and don't you dare miss the show!
Long Live The Fred!
JamBase Resident World Bridger
Go See Live Music!
Go Download Live Fred!
or Go HearLive Jacob Fred!
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
Hotel Utah | San Francisco, CA
January 18, 2001
The setlists, as remembered by bassist Reed Mathis:
Lost in Las Vegas
Seven Inch Six
The Time Is Now (!!)
Critters (dedicated to Critters Buggin')
Lost At The State Fair
Roused About (Branford Marsalis tune)
E: Three Splattered Eggs