By Dennis Cook
In Taoism there's the concept of the unclouded mirror, where one's purpose is reflected with clarity, absent the bias of personal judgments, fears and desires. It represents a state of pure being that fully accesses our inherent reasons for existing in this time and place. Lofty as this idea seems it is the heart of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.
JFJO by Jeffree Lerner
"Thinking is one of the worst things a musician can do on stage. It means you're not playing music you're thinking," says pianist Brian Haas, one-third of the bravest, strangest trio to bitch slap the calcified face of jazz in a decade. "The main thing is to be as open as possible to anything. If I catch myself thinking I do mantras to make myself stop. It's all about an absence of thought. That's the way to let the higher shit through."
The once Tulsa, Oklahoma rooted group has developed into an international affair, taking their unique hybrid of burly jazz chops, 21st century composition and genre nullifying hyperactivity everywhere from Amsterdam to Rio and back to prestigious U.S. spots like NYC's Blue Note [where they play their last dates until March '07 this week]. In an era of extreme commercial specialization, JFJO remain elusively, even sometimes frustratingly, individual, a band beyond categorization at the crossroads.
So You Say You Want An Evolution
"Jazz is just a groove. It has to grow, be wider than the way it sounded in the '30s or 60s or any one era," offers drummer Jason Smart. "There are a lot of bands consistently helping it to grow like Dave Holland and Wayne Shorter, MMW, Brad Mehldau – all these different things filed under 'Jazz' but to different degrees they are and are not jazz."
Jason Smart - JFJO by Maarit Kytöharju
From album to album and gig to gig, JFJO constantly redefine their terms, and in the process stretch the often-inflexible jazz genre. Their horn-laden 1999 studio debut, Welcome Home, bears little resemblance to recent two-fingered salutes to orthodoxy like their rock covers rich The Sameness Of Difference or recent pulsating live jewel Tomorrow We'll Know Today, which frequently hews closer to Boards of Canada or Tortoise than bebop. If there is one constant in their work it is change fueled by three deliriously restless imaginations.
"Our music is about being open to whatever presents itself. We try to keep ourselves stimulated, not just with new songs but new approaches, trying to get our music closer to a pure thing than an ego-driven display. More selfless, less personal," says bassist Reed Mathis. "If we've had any mission statement it's to be unconventional in the best way, to find something novel at all times even if no one notices or cares, to do it just for our own spiritual jollies, to be experiencing discovery as often as possible. That leads to a new way to play jazz, a new way to improvise."
"Jazz means something very different to every single person on Earth," continues Haas. "We should just be called the 'Jacob Fred Music Odyssey' or 'Jacob Fred Life Odyssey.' We're just trying to evolve and be better people every day. It's a very simple thing. All three of us are individually tired of ourselves being un-evolved. So, it's really a very personal thing for us. We three are learning to evolve and we're lucky that we have this music to help us through this process. I'd be doing the same basic process if I were a construction worker or a landscape architect or an accountant. God willing, I'd still hopefully be evolving."
Smart interjects, "We've even talked about calling ourselves 'JFJO' on our next album and not even mentioning 'Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.' It's so long and hard to remember. We're trying to come up with tactics to get new people interested. I think we could maybe have gotten more attention if we did the exact same thing we do but called it 'adventurous rock' from the beginning."