"When Jacob Fred stops evolving‚ that's when I'll stop doing it‚" pianist and composer Brian Haas of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey says with as much conviction‚ intensity and humanness as the music he plays. It seems like this band wouldn't exist if there wasn't continuous motion and evolution. As surprising and sad it was to hear that bassist and founding member Reed Mathis was leaving the band earlier this year‚ in retrospect‚ it all makes sense. This band lives and breathes vibrant growth. And if it ain't happening‚ then it ain't happening.
Reed's parting shot comes with Winterwood‚ an album that JFJO is giving away as a free download‚ and it brilliantly displays the new sonic experimentations of the band. The atmosphere is modern‚ hip and forward-thinking‚ but still holds the tried and true tradition of jazz. And in that sense‚ it might be where the band's sound has advanced the most--understanding each other's space and knowing how to let a killer melody breathe. Listen to the way the band moves and how Haas' fingers work magic on the Grateful Dead's "Crazy Fingers" to see what I'm talking about.
With Chris Combs on lap steel and Matt Hayes on upright bass joining Haas and drummer Josh Raymer‚ Jacob Fred is launching full speed ahead into the next chapter. There's urgency in their music‚ there's excitement in Haas's voice‚ and there's magic happening onstage. Things are moving quickly‚ too. Since my conversation with Haas‚ the band finished their first leg of a successful run of shows‚ offered up the tools to do your own remix of their song "Tetherball Triumph" [see STS9 doing it live during a P.A. set]‚ had guitarist Bill Frisell sit in for some tasty improvisation during their show in Seattle‚ and now Haas is giving away a new album, Petting Sounds‚ an improvised symphony for solo piano that was recorded in one continuous session‚ away as a free download.

I just streamed the set from Largo [2/11/09] with the new group. How are you feeling about it?
Oh‚ man‚ I feel great. It's a lot of fun. All the guys in my band have been listening to my music for years. I think everyone in the band with the exception of one has been listening to this music since middle school. So‚ Jacob Fred has become a language that you can speak‚ and these guys speak it very well. It's been great for me for so many reasons that I could go on and on about. It's just very uplifting. Everyone in the band is playing at the same level‚ we have the same spiritual concepts‚ and that's a real important starting point.
That's great to hear.
It's real simple stuff‚ obvious stuff. Reed [Mathis] and I didn't have any drama. We were just tired of being around each other and tired of playing with each other. Zero drama and zero discussions. He and I both had the same idea on the same day--he wasn't fired and he didn't leave. It was a mutual thing that we communicated to each other on the same day‚ and we never looked back.
I know people like to gossip‚ and it's being depicted in a lot of different ways‚ but there wasn't any drama‚ there weren't any fights‚ there wasn't even a slight disagreement. We just psychically had a day where we were on the same exact page maybe within an hour from each other. I communicated by text and he communicated by email. It was a beautifully psychic day. Really simple stuff. All the stories that have been floating around are bullshit‚ because he didn't leave and he wasn't fired. I guess you can say it was a mutual expression of truth. There's not even really a story to it. So‚ here's some badass music.
What do you think it is? You had a really‚ really tight brotherhood in music with Reed for a really long time‚ so what do you think it is that would make you both agree that it was time to do your own things?
It's a spiritual thing. It's the same way with any long relationship--husbands and wives grow apart. Reed and I‚ I don't think‚ have been making the best music for the last two‚ three or four years. We've had great moments and some great tours‚ and some incredible nights. But just spiritually‚ we want different things out of life and we want different things out of music. It's really similar to what happens in a marriage‚ except we were really lucky‚ because like I said‚ there wasn't any drama; there wasn't any bullshit. There isn't really anything to speak of other than we both want different things and we're both strong enough personalities that we know how to express that to one another. It was incredibly mellow considering how fiery he and I can both be. It was really cool. [laughter] It was like a leaf falling off a tree--there was nothing to it‚ and it was really natural. The way the whole thing went down reminds me of the simplest aspects of nature.
Yeah‚ I'm super stoked to not be playing music with him‚ and I'm assuming he's super stoked to not be playing music with me. I think we're both really happy about it. [laughter]
That's good. I guess time will make sense out of it‚ right?
Yeah‚ it's all good. I mean‚ the cool thing is that it was mutual. I don't care how anyone wants to paint it or how lazy writers want to write it. You can't write about that shit‚ you know? I mean‚ it's pretty boring to write an article about‚ like I said‚ a leaf falling off a tree. [laughter] One second it's there; the next it's not. You can't write articles about the simple shit that happens in nature. A flower blooms on a tree and then it falls to the ground--people can't make that story interesting‚ so they have a tendency to paint it out in these strange ways.
Well‚ in some capacity‚ that seems in line with the philosophy both of you've have always lived playing music together‚ which is to evolve. It makes sense that if it wasn't working that you'd go your separate ways.
Yeah‚ definitely. I think Reed wants to try singing‚ and he has some words in him. And I just want to do my thing.
What is your thing?
Composing and writing. You know‚ simple shit. I'm sure if I could sing‚ I would. I'm not the greatest singer‚ so I write for an instrumental band that has been around for 15 years‚ and it's still a blast. We're composing together as a band for the first time since like 1996 or 1997. We actually work every day. We show up at the rehearsal space at 1pm and generally are there until 9 at night.
But you asked about my thing. I'm just trying to be a composer and pianist‚ and I'm just trying to be a little bit better every day. I tried to be a little bit better every day as a human and as a musician. I'd say that's my thing.
How do you feel about the improvising with the new guys in the band?