The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is building toward an ecstatic climax just for you
by Lee Abraham
Let’s set the record straight - there is no Jacob Fred. The person, that is. The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is another story. As one of the hottest touring bands on the scene today, the JFJO is as real as it gets. So who the hell is Jacob Fred? "Brian (Haas), our keyboard player, became obsessed with the name when his mom was pregnant with Richard, our drummer," says bass player Reed Mathis with a laugh. "Although his folks passed on giving that name to his little brother, Brian kept his eyes open for a chance to use it somewhere. The ‘Jazz Odyssey’ comes from Spinal Tap, where they’re talking about performing a ‘free form jazz odyssey’ in front of a stadium crowd... we all share this very weird sense of humor, we think things are funny that almost noone else thinks is funny, so we thought that was funny for some reason or another."
"The main thing behind the name is the tone of it," continues Mathis. "It’s sort of self mocking and a reminder to us not to take ourselves or what we’re doing too seriously. This weird thing happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s called ‘Jazz Education,’ where jazz was basically turned into a form of classical music that’s taught in the schools as a body of work to be emulated and adhered to, whereas the reality of jazz is that its tradition is innovation. The outcome is that the jazz community has become this very, sort of solemn, stilted thing. Earlier today I was listening to a recording of Louis Armstrong from 1927 and there’s nothing solemn about it, you know? He’s just excited and yelling, and that’s the spirit we want to make music in."
Don’t be fooled. Serious chops and a lot of time have gone into the JFJO’s playful approach. "As the years pass, we’ve developed this sort of vocabulary that we share, that we’ve all kind of come up with together, and that becomes more and more coherent as time passes," says Mathis. "We’ve always had things in common, that’s evident on our very first CD which was recorded in ‘95... but over the years we’ve really kind of harmonized our voices into more of one voice, and harmonized all our various messages into one message."
Headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the JFJO has released six albums with various lineups over the past seven years and relentless touring has solidified a coast to coast fanbase of ‘Fred heads’ that continues to grow through the power of their live shows. "Our music is mostly improvised," says Mathis. "I mean, we have compositions, but the compositions are canvasses for us to paint on. We start out at a certain point and the goal of our improvisation is to, without forcing, build what we’re doing to an ecstatic climax. When that genuinely happens without forcing, it’s the most incredible release, both for the musicians and the audience. That’s the most beautiful part of making music, when it’s a shared experience."
Neon city scenesters agree. "Our last Vegas show there was an opening group, and then we played two, hour and half long sets," says Mathis. "At the end of the second set the crowd was screaming for an encore, so we gave them a two song medley encore that lasted like twenty minutes, and we were just like, OK, time to pack it up, so we stopped. But they kept screaming and actually started chanting, ‘third set, third set!’ Eventually we just had to give in, so after a break we came back and jammed ‘til 4:30 in the morning!"
note from mrlee: got way too many great quotes from Reed for the limited space alotted by the Las Vegas Weekly for this article, so we decided to include the following 'bonus' quotes for your reading pleasure:
--------On the JFJO's next CD: "We are currently talking to several labels that are expressing interest in putting out our next and supporting the group in the future. Some have made offers and some other ones are going to be meeting with us. The next record will definitely be manufactured, distributed and promoted by a label... but I can't really say which one."
"The next record is going to be very exciting! The tunes that we've been writing since the last record, are in my opinion, the coolest compositions we've done. We're definitely treading a lot of new ground. When we write songs we usually write them with a specific goal in mind, like a specific thing that we don't know how to do that we would like to know how to do as a group. So we'll write a song that is like sort of a specific medicine for that specific ailment, if you want to look at it like that."
"We're going to take a little more time, which means like a week instead of a day. Plot things out a bit more. Maybe experiment with layering more textures on top of our group improvisations, percussion and multiple keyboards. Also some acoustic stuff, which we haven't done on a record yet, but acosutic playing has always been part of our repertiore and part of our background, acoustic bass, acoustic piano, hand drums, all that stuff, and we'll definitely be putting some of that on the new record for sure."
"I love making records, it's one of my favorite things. The part of me that likes making records is the part of me that likes making arts and crafts. Whereas playting live is more like athletics or something. It's fully in the present. When you're done, there's nothing to really show for it, except what you've been though. Their both rewarding in their own way."
--------On JFJO being labeled as a 'jamband':
"Musicians almost never play a part in coming up with labels, so it really makes no difference to me one way or the other. But I do think it's an incredible blessing to musicians that this thing is happening. In retrospect, I think people will look back on what's going on right now as a rennaissance, because for the first time in like forty years, since back when the Beatles and Bob Dylan first came out, improvising musicians, -hundreds- of them, have gigs. And audiences. That is a miracle! This is a new thing. So as far as I'm concerned, this jamband scene is about as close to a revitalized jazz scene as we've had since the '50s. I think it's beautiful and I'm proud to be a part of it!" ### [;^)