Hearing Aide: Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey ‘Worker’

Worker, the new album from Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and the twenty-sixth in the band’s twentieth year features a return to a trio lineup that explores new material in the band’s original format. Guitarist Chris Combs reflects on the revised lineup, saying “Much of the first large-level success the band saw was as a trio, and for the 20th anniversary of the band, we worked up a set of older material to celebrate that anniversary – a lot of which was from that trio era.” On Worker, many tracks have one sub-layer keeping a beat – and to keep things fresh, it’s not always talented drummer Josh Raymer – that the other instruments build off of, giving a base-level for listeners to jump in at, rather than being overwhelmed by the not-for-amateurs deconstructed jazz that plays over the top of this layer.

Founding member Brian Haas shares that the music on Worker, “It’s influenced by jazz, but it’s not jazz”, a fitting description as identifying this album as jazz would be like nailing jello to a wall and expecting it to stick.

Opening with “New Bird”, video game blips appear inside a floating frame, a gentle easing into the album. “Appropriation Song” could serve as the soundtrack to a Contra video game, where as the song progresses you can picture a shift into the jungle, meeting the level boss and the hero dying in a hail of 8-bit bullets. “Betamax”, a highlight of the album, features a slow uphill climb with some underlying funk, followed by “Hey Hey NSA”, with an appropriately creepy intro that is at first trancey then gets weird.

Big Gigantic meets Marco Benevento in “Say Nothing”, a flair of acid jazz where the trio shines brightest, locked in step. “Bounce” could double as a horror-film score amid Combs’ superb guitar work. “Let Yourself Out” brings things down a notch with placid jazz for the first half of the song, then as Haas slowly turns things up on synth for a redirection of the composition, a curveball sends things into ludicrous speed, only brought back to earth by “Mesa”, a wind chimes interlude.  “Better Living Through Competitive Spirituality” uniquely features a Schoenhut toy piano that takes center stage while Haas’ synth keeps a steady melody over Josh Raymer’s drumming.

JFJO has quite a gem with Worker, an accessible jazz-influenced album from the reformed trio. Just don’t call it a jazz album.

Key Tracks: Betamax, Say Nothing, Bounce

Upcoming shows in the Northeast include Nov. 13 at The Lily Pad in Cambridge, MA – tickets/info, Nov. 14 at The Zinc Bar in NYC (w/Jamie Saft’s New Zion Trio) – tickets/info, and Nov. 15 at Radio Bean in Burlington, VT – tickets/info.

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