Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey – Worker (2014)

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The never-ending evolution of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey continues.

Conceived in Tulsa in 1994, the band has gone through so many lineup changes, expanding and contracting in size like the act of breathing, and leaving nothing sacred from change in their music, either (except for one thing: their daring attitude). Just try to neatly fit their twenty-sixth long player Worker — out October 14, 2014 via The Royal Potato Family — into their deep and varied discography.

But we’ll try, anyway.

Worker, like most JFJO studio records, signals a change in direction, but I get the feeling that this is one of those longer-term changes in direction. That’s because, first, it’s down to a much more nimble and manageable trio, and second, that trio is founding member Brian Haas (keyboards) alongside new, younger members Chris Combs (guitar, lap steel) and Josh Raymer (drums), hungry guys with a lot a musicality and full of ideas that fit the JFJO creed to expand outward from jazz into whatever sounds good. For this trio, that means the resonance of indie rock, the swagger and thump of hip-hop, the multi-sectioned construction of prog rock and the deconstruction of experimental fusion. Jazz? It’s hanging in there by a thread.

We witnessed a taste of this new direction last August with the release of the advance single “Betamax”.

If you asked these guys, they’d probably tell you they play the music with a certain vibe in mind, and let the resulting music itself determine what style it’s being played in. Some basic ground rules do apply for Worker, though: a dirty, analog-y sound, the diminishing of lines between composing and improvisation and recording these song mostly live. About the only present-day device used in making this music is looping, which is done right, because it makes the trio often sound like a quartet or quintet and never appears gimmicky.

That’s probably because JFJO plays instinctively; “New Bird” was even taped without them knowing it, as a matter of fact. Taking its own sweet time, it practically urges listeners to just chill out and enjoy the phantasmal attitude as it strolls into Combs’ spacey guitar workout as the song gathers volume and hurtles toward its ending.

JFJO takes care not to make things sound too clean; a tube-y, buzzy Moog and a fuzzy guitar scruff up the sonic quality of “Appropriation Song” but married to a melody that includes a faster paced passage dropped right in the middle of it that’s full of interesting, contrasting textures. It’s like a thinking man’s garage band. “Hey Hey NSA” also begins with a simple riff, but things get agitated, and a loop is cut loose that sounds like a warped alarm as if to underscore the building urgency.

They use all kinds of tactics to push a song and keep them dynamic. Sometimes it’s changing the tempo or the harmonic figure or just the intonation. You’ll hear them do all these things to make “Say Nothing” a cornucopia of moods, beats and melodic ideas. “Bounce” is a reversal on the idea of using electronic programming to perform a handmade song. Combs turns the normally ‘country’ pedal steel guitar into an instrument of eerie, ethereal mood on songs like “Let Yourself Out,” and the spectral and spooky “The Finder’s Keeper” brings a Halloween kind of ending to the whole thing.

The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey may barely be jazz these days, but it still embarks on uncommon music odysseys. Worker suggests that twenty years in, this endeavor is nowhere near the end.

Visit Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s website for more info.

Here are the dates and places for the JFJO Fall ’14 Tour:

* w/McTuff

10/10/14 – Chelsea’s – Baton Rouge, LA (w/George Porter Jr.)
10/11/14 – Snug Harbor – New Orleans, LA
10/16/14 – DazzleJazz – Denver, CO
10/17/14 – DazzleJazz – Denver, CO
10/18/14 – SFUAD – Santa Fe, NM
10/21/14 – Winston’s – San Diego, CA*
10/22/14 – SDCC Masterclass – San Diego, CA*
10/22/14 – The Mint – Los Angeles, CA*
10/23/14 – Duende – Oakland, CA*
10/24/14 – Duende – Oakland, CA*
10/25/14 – Crazy Horse – Nevada City, CA*
10/26/14 – Zodiac’s – Petaluma, CA*
10/28/14 – Axe and Fiddle – Cottage Grove, OR*
10/29/14 – Skyway – Zig Zag, OR*
10/30/14 – Goodfoot – Portland, OR*
10/31/14 – Rhythm and Rye – Olympia, WA*
11/1/14 – Earshot Jazz Festival – Seattle, WA*
11/8/14 – Cain’s Ballroom – Tulsa, OK
11/10/14 – Dick’s Den – Columbus, OH
11/11/14 – Grog Shop – Cleveland, OH
11/13/14 – The Lily Pad – Cambridge, MA
11/14/14 – The Zinc Bar – NYC (w/Jamie Saft’s New Zion Trio)
11/15/14 – Radio Bean – Burlington, VT

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