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The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

Myth Interpretation

Man or myth, Jacob Fred is a mystery to me, but I can tell you something of what it means to experience a Jazz Odyssey.

Legend says it all started in Tulsa, Oklahoma sometime in 1994, though nobody's exactly sure when. Longtime friends and fellow Tulsa University music students Brian Haas and Reid Mathis gathered together a collection of sonic spelunkers who all shared a common love for pure jazz improvisation. Hours of intensely studying the demigods- Monk, Mingus, Miles- and even more hours of more intense devotion to their instruments gave birth to the first incarnation of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: a nine-member ensemble led by Haas on Fender Rhodes and Mathis on bass, joined by a horn section, guitar, drums, and percussion. The group gigged relentlessly, spreading the word of Fred to eager collegiate congregations across the Midwest. Quickly the group garnered a reputation for revelatory, uplifting performances more akin to soul-saving revivals than ordinary concert performances, and thus the legend of Jacob Fred was planted along the open roads and vast spaces of America's heartland.

Fast-forward a few years to sometime in late 2001; a new chapter has unfolded for the Fred. Now a concentrated version of its former lineup, the band is reinvented as a trio, with Haas, Mathis, and Cincinnati sensation Jason Smart behind the drum kit. The story of Jacob Fred has finally come together through national touring and countless pristine musical moments, and the band has honed its improvisational focus to a razor-sharp edge. This razor cuts far deeper than most, though; soon NASA registers tears in the space-time continuum and religious zealots are citing the first sign of the Apocalypse. Traveling light years at the drop of a high-hat, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey has finally plotted its course, and it leads into another dimension.

The fable of Fred might seem implausible, but the origin of the band is really the only quantifiable aspect of who they are and what they do. Jacob Fred makes that kind of music for which words fail miserably, since the music they make is a language all its own. Haas is almost certainly possessed by the demon of Rhodes: watching him smash frantic, spiraling runs from his keyboard is simultaneously frightening, inspiring, and humbling. His energy is boundless and his creativity a marvel. Mathis is a complete enigma. As one of great innovators of the bass- on par with Jaco and Claypool- he pulls sounds straight from the collective unconsciousness, unlikely sounds that elicit pure incredulity from first-time listeners. His sparring matches with Haas tangle, stab, and soar with heady abandon, sliding elements of spacious free jazz up against explosive, groove-laden vamps. Smart is certainly the anchor between the two, a subtle virtuoso whose drumming can easily lock down an improvisation because he also holds the key to setting it free. His lockstep rhythms serve as the psychic signposts that guide Haas and Mathis' astral traveling. Together these three make music that's challenging, thrilling, and invariably rewarding. To watch them play is cathartic--you can see the heart and heat behind every note. Like any mission that matters, it's something you have to experience yourself to really understand. That's what a Jazz Odyssey is all about.