The first thing you should know about the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is that there is no Jacob Fred in the band. The second thing to be aware of is that their music is not always jazz — at least not “jazz” in the conventional sense. As I’ll explain later, it’s become even more unconventional starting today. And lastly, the “Odyssey” part of their name does fit, because their music is most assuredly a trip.
Tulsa, Oklahoma-based trio Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, heretofore called “JFJO,” has been defying conventions since its formation in the mid-nineties. This trio was formed by Brian Hass (keyboards) and Reed Mathis (bass), with a changing cast of supporting players. In the latest personnel move, Josh Waymer replaced Jason Smart at drums; this is the configuration that went into a converted century-old warehouse in Tulsa last year and laid down the tracks that became Lil Tae Rides Again, released just today.
Even before Tae, JFJO’s brand of instrumental music was already hard to pin down. They could sound like The Art Ensemble of Chicago on one song and vocal-less Ben Folds Five the next.
They could alternate freely between Herbie Hancock’s Sextet to John Hicks’ Trio. Or the sweaty fusion of the Soft Machine and the deep jungle groove of electric Miles Davis. Sometimes they’re all these things at once. The Chicago Sun Times probably nailed it as much as it can be nailed when they wrote: “Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey weave the kind of impressionistic, imaginative new jazz that shatters any kind of identity, much less categories and classifications.”
After giving the public three years to digest seven years of studio and live recordings, though, the threesome is back with their most idiosyncratic effort yet.
For this group of recordings, JFJO turned to fellow Tulsan and electronica guru Tae Meyulks to produce, and Meyulks took a very hands-on role shaping the sound of the output from the basic tracks the band laid down. He also co-wrote all the tunes with the band. His large imprint is even evident in the album’s title!
What Meyulks did on this project was to deconstruct the basic tracks and used loops, dubs, and samples to reconstruct them into something ofter entirely different. Group interplay has been greatly supplemented — and often supplanted — by technologically-created sonic textures and soundscapes.
Ultimately, Meyulks blurred the distinction between performed music and fabricated music, creating a hybrid made the old fashioned way with cutting edge studio technology. It’s not a unique approach by any means (and I’ve covered several albums lately that used a similar approach), but it seems to be employed a lot more often of late.
The wrinkle that Meyulks and JFJO added to this method was to also blur the distinctions between songs, so as to make the album sound as one piece with many little sections. Fully-realized melodies are often replaced by shapes and fragments. Some of the songs even contain several phases within them despite there being only one extended piece (the seven-minute plus “Goodnight Ollie”).
“Tae Parade” is one of those multi-phase songs that works wonderfully well. There’s an distant, solemn organ that paces a soft, ambient intro before the funky rhythm crashes into the scene about 90 seconds later, joined by a xylophone and later, Hass’ dissonant electric piano. The song takes two more twists before segueing into “Santiago Lends A Hand,” which is similarly structured, This time, instead of a xylophone, the exotic sounds of tubular bells are used.
“Goodnight Ollie” likewise begins soft, this time via a electric piano interrupted by the odd electronic sound before Raymer and Mathis arrive unexpectedly with a steady rock beat to chase the doldrums away.
“Autumnal” sounds similar to the post-rock of Hyena Records label-mate Marco Beneventos’ Invisible Baby (on which Mathis contributed) and even has what sounds like a guitar on it. But since JFJO doesn’t have a guitarist and no one was credited as such, one might assume that it was sampled in. The songs builds itself up to a frenzy of played and overlaid instruments before making way for a gentle outro, which had been broken out into its own track called “Winter Clothes.”
“Tether Ball Triumph” milks a keyboard loop for all it’s worth, running it both backward and forward to create an fascinatingly intricate phrase, like some computer-generated arpeggio.
“Recovering The Time Capsule” is the closest thing to a normal song found anywhere on the record; it’s a melancholy figure played over and over, at one point over Raymer’s sharply contrasted crashing cymbals.
The four remaining tracks are short cuts of three minutes or less, mostly ambient interludes or electronica exercises consisting of an idea or two, rather than fully-formed songs.
The jazz listener in me would have liked to have heard these guys show off more of their considerable chops. Clearly that’s not what Haas, Mathis and Meyulks had in mind for JFJO’s latest long-player. So it’s best to approach Lil Tae Rides Again with only the last word in the “Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey” in mind. For this release, the first three words don’t apply.
Here are a couple of short videos of portions of two tracks from Lil Tae Rides Again that should give you a little flavor for the album. These were put together by Meyulks himself:
photo by Zack Smith