Enter the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and its seventh recording, All is One: Live in New York City. A trio from Tulsa, Okla., JFJO sprang into being in 1994 as an escape from the rigors of classical music, and today subsists on a strict diet of wicked grooves and powerful jams, like Medeski Martin & Wood off their Ritalin. Keyboardist Brian Haas, drummer Jason Smart and bassist Reed Mathis evoke all the spirit and soul of the blues without ever playing a single lick of it. Then they plunge - they swing - much deeper, into feelings and ideas and combinations thereof that few ever dare to plumb.
Having once performed at our very own Mangy Moose at Teton Village, JFJO now appears with the likes of Charlie Hunter and John Scofield at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and NYC’s famed Knitting Factory, where All is One was recorded over two nights. This new disc captures not just the music made in March of this year, but something of the intensity of the process.
All of music - time, rhythm, melody, harmony - is put through the blender here, generally with fun if not delicious results. Haas’ keyboards tend to grab the most attention, but there’s no single star in this show, and Mathis and Smart take advantage of the ample opportunities to strut their stuff, too. The energy is huge throughout, sometimes overwhelming; but the musicianship is obvious, as is the joy, sweat and mess of creation.
The trio gets right down to it on the opening track, "Thelonious Monk Is My Grandmother," with a spacey sci-fi intro that brings Sun Ra to mind more than Monk. Haas beats the dirty Fender Rhodes lick into the ground, but fantastic and bizarre things grow therefrom.
"Grub Ridge Stomp" follows in stark contrast. It’s pretty traditional trio playing, with Haas on acoustic grand piano, and Smart and Mathis enjoying some great and engaging interplay. About half way, through, Haas breaks his bonds and explodes into some furious chordal ranting.
"The Slip" is named for another jazz jam trio JFJO once toured with. (The Slip has a new disc out, too, Angels Come On Time, which will be dealt with here in good time). Like their inspiration, JFJO moves "like a school of fish," to use Mathis’ words, floating in tight formation then suddenly turning as one or scattering like dust before the wind. The 11-minute epic swings from theme to theme, going from lyrical to way-out and back to lyrical from minute to minute, and yet it all hangs together quite well.
Mathis takes the lead on "There Is No Method," though one would be hard pressed to guess that his long, loose, extended solo is done on the bass. Haas manages to keep his cool throughout the track, which allows more of Smart’s talents to come across, too. "Lovejoy" is named for Charlie Hunter’s drummer Chris Lovejoy, and it features both him and the Groove Collective’s Chris Theberge as guest percussionists. Haas plays a funny little instrument called a melodica, kind of a cross between a harmonica and a pump organ, which contributes to a fun, light, funky feeling.
"Overtone Star" dispels such whimsy with a bad ass, manic density that seems passed on from beyond the grave directly by the late Tony Williams. "Vernal Equinox" has a groovy, breezy bass intro, a crazy, fractured head, and even a little Latin something or other thrown in there. It’s surely the catchiest number of the disc, which isn’t saying that it also doesn’t take on the same kinds of challenges as the rest of the disc.
"Hunter Gatherer" invites Lovejoy and Theberge back, and "Three Splattered Eggs" wraps up this particular odyssey with a goofy circus-like head that, after about 30 seconds, turns into a freak show.
All Is One surely is not for everyone - it’s not the kind of thing you’d put on for a nice relaxing bath, say - but for those who can appreciate it, it’s a vast realm of texture and tone, attack and intention to explore. Not everyone is willing to venture into such dark matter, but as those who are know, the universe is made of 90 percent of it.