By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
"All Is One: Live in New York City "
(Knitting Factory Records)
Were this the forum for such academic criticism, I could dust off my Music Critic's Dictionary and really lay a few $20 words on you here. An examination of Tulsa's most unique band, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, needs words like "contrapuntal," "polytonal," "harmolodics" or a host of music theory paradigms. But this isn't the place, nor is that the point of the Odyssey — or any odyssey, for that matter. No, this journey is about the travel, the path, the winds that both propel us homeward and blow us off course. It's about three insanely talented players finding their way in the world and the insane music they make simply by making the journey.
The Fred boys — keyboardist Brian Haas, bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Jason Smart — have certainly traveled. The presentation on "All Is One" is light years ahead of the Odyssey's '96 debut, "Live at the Lincoln Continental" (recorded at the Eclipse with the then seven-member band). What years ago often sounded like a bunch of yahoos banging on pianos and wanking on horns has evolved into a mythic and oxymoronic sound — considered abandon, controlled explosion, ragged grace. Closely networked — like a flock of starlings, turning with each other through the nebulous charts with a mind-boggling synchronicity — the three of them act as some kind of psychic lightning rod, absorbing the hot, high voltage of improvisational plasma and grounding it for us, delivering it in tingles and good vibrations, saving us from the shock. They are mediators, priests, shamans and "All Is One" is their finest interpretation of the cosmos yet.
Recorded live at the prestigious Knitting Factory nightclub in New York City, "All Is One" doesn't give away its setting. Rarely do we hear audience applause, and no one says, "Thank you, New York City!" from the stage. The recording is intensely focused on the instruments, which — despite the sweaty, raucous madness of a typical Fred show — is a blessing.
It allows us to really hear Reed Mathis' bass, which is a treat because Mathis doesn't play his bass very much like a bass. Rather, he tends to play it like Hendrix played his guitar, and sometimes he runs it through the eeriest effects. On "There Is No Method" his instrument sounds like a cat trapped inside a Martin guitar in a culvert -- a mildly funky exploration of the upper register, full of depth and astonishing lyricism — while on "Vernal Equinox" it's a fretless dobro under your pillow. "Lovejoy" showcases Haas' agility in switching between melodica and his Fender Rhodes piano within the same measure, all the while keeping this chugging, churning percussion romp utterly light and frothy. (The tune is named for guest percussionist Chris Lovejoy, from Charlie Hunter's band. Groove Collective percussionist Chris Theberge also is on board here.) Throughout, Smart shows himself to be the best drummer the band has had since the late Sean Layton helped found the band.
When all is said and done, your mind might not be blown — and that's OK. So many past Fred albums have worn their freak too well; "All Is One" approaches you like a guru, calmly, patiently, unafraid of speaking the truth but not preaching to you the entire gospel in one overwhelming homily. This record smooths out those rough edges, offers a spoonful of sugar with the medicine and satisfies the soul.
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These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.