For a band who lost one of their two primary members—bassist Reed Mathis, who joined Tea Leaf Green in 2007—Oklahoma’s now-veteran Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey sound a good deal like themselves on One Day in Brooklyn. So intact is Jacob Fred’s skittering Monk-influenced sound, to which Mathis was a major contributor, that one might not even know that Mathis ever split.
To wit: Mathis’s big move was an octave pedal, which allowed his bass to soar exuberantly over bandmate Brian Haas’s dense piano. It was a transcendent gesture. (Maybe a little too easily transcendent, or “transcendent” or whatever, but it worked.) Also one that might be hard to replace without changing the identifiable nooks that Haas and Mathis’s partnership carved over 14 years.
The solution: Chris Combs and a lap steel guitar.
And there it is: a soaring, singular sound to dart between Haas’s note-bending flutters. On the obligatory pop cover, The Beatles’ “Julia,” Haas is as subtle as ever, deconstructing John Lennon’s immortal melody into small, impressionistic figures that occasionally focus into familiarity, while Combs swells politely behind him. It is not much by way of reinvention, neither for Jacob Fred, nor for “Julia,” but the sound is sweet and true.
Mathis’s last few years with Jacob Fred were spent answering the perpetual question of what jazz means in the 21st century. The answers were meticulous in-studio creations (2008’s Lil’ Tae Rides Again) and quiet improvisation excursions (2006’s 4 Improvisations For The Ghosts). By conteast, the six-song 35-minute One Day—miniature only by bloated CD lengths—is mostly about retrenchment. Tunes like “Imam” and “Drethoven” restate JFJO tricks: punchy little melodies, places for Combs to glide. Only on the disc closing (and, perhaps not coincidentally, shortest) track, “Four In One,” do Haas and Combs seem to gel perfectly, Combs swinging delicately over drummer Joshua Raymer and Haas’s gentle chords. It is there, too—also perhaps not coincidentally—that Combs finds a space that Mathis never occupied, a lilting, near-Hawaiian dreaminess that grows deeper even as Combs climbs his guitar’s neck into notes that evaporate into the atmosphere. Haas is more grounded than ever. One can almost hear the quiet that awaits.