Upon first listen, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's latest album, Lil' Tae Rides Again, seems like a complete left turn for the band. Gone are the organic sounds of Walking with Giants and the subtle, in-the-pocket groove of Sameness of Difference. Instead, JFJO has taken the route of electronic experimentalism, integrating processed sounds and sampling to make a record that has more in common with Aphex Twin or Squarepusher than Charles Mingus or Thelonius Monk.
Anyone who's really aware of Jacob Fred shouldn't be surprised, though. After all, JFJO has always been an evolving beast, starting out as a seven-piece band, then growing to 10 at one point before scaling down to a trio, and now integrating a new drummer as well as supplementing the lineup with Tae Meyulks and Peter Tomshani (of Indicator/Activator) to recreate the new release.
When discussing the new disc, bassist/guitarist Reed Mathis looked at it this way: "If you took all our records and put [them] on shuffle on an iPod, you would think you were listening to 10 different bands. It's like, now it's some Okie Beastie Boys, now it's some Paul Simon reggae, now it's free jazz, now we're playing Duke Ellington standards, now we're playing electronic orchestral music, now we're playing the Beatles... It's been a lot of stuff."
He went on to explain, "All we've done is try new stuff; so really, it's not a left turn. Really, it's right on course."
Granted, "right on course" for Jacob Fred isn't the same as it would be for other bands, but this isn't an ordinary band. Never content with the status quo, JFJO always pushes the envelope, whether live or in the studio. After eight solid years on the road, however, Mathis and Brian Haas were ready to take an extended break and explore new territory once again.
That extended break also afforded Mathis and Haas the opportunity to finally work with electronic genius and friend Meyulks, with whom they had been discussing collaborating for years. This wasn't a typical collaboration, however. Instead of sitting down in a room together, trading ideas and working them out, Mathis and Haas would bring their songs to Meyulks, show him the arrangements, cut their parts and leave it to the master to do his magic.
The final results can be found on Lil' Tae Rides Again, which will be officially released next Tuesday, April 8, on Hyena records. Part electronic experimentation, part jazz improv and part rock attitude, the final mix may have Meyulks' fingerprints all over it, but it's still 100 percent Jacob Fred.
Perhaps more exciting than the recording process, however, will be the live performance. Instead of mic-ing the instruments to a soundboard for mixing, all of the instruments on stage will be fed into Meyulks' laptop, where he will orchestrate it on the fly and actually recreate the sounds on the disc.
First Day for Lil' Tae
The time off and chance to try something new and totally different has completely reinvigorated the band. You can see it in Haas' and Mathis' eyes and hear it in their voices.
Visiting the band at its practice space explains why. Surrounded by apparent junk and toys, all is not what it seems.
Initially, stepping into the space feels like a visit to Joe's Garage. Then you start to realize that nearly everything is there for a purpose.
The excitement in the air is palpable, and it's not just because of the new record, although that's part of it. The band has a new lease on life, fueled not only by an extended break from the road, but also the infusion of new blood by way of Josh Raymer, who replaced Jason Smart on drums last year.
The fact that the band was able to convince Meyulks and Tomshani to join the party enhances the joy and controlled chaos. Once the band hits the stage, however, the camaraderie turns to business, albeit a joyous business.
In theory, the title of the disc refers to producer/mad scientist Meyulks' son's first day of school. As such, you can hear and feel the anxiousness, the fun and the comfort of arriving back home and finishing the day in the pleasant surroundings of home. It could also just as well be a metaphor for a day in the life of Jacob Fred--always moving, always changing and never sitting still.
Is the band taking a risk? Possibly so. Is the payoff great? Absolutely. Will the audience respond positively? Only time will tell, but it's hard to imagine it won't.
After all, it's a new day for Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and it's an exciting one at that.
The band recreates the new disc for the first time this Friday night for the Lil' Tae CD release party at the Blank Slate, 230 E. 1st St., in what will mark another first for the band. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door, and the show is an all-ages, non-smoking event.
Share this article: