Freestyle Fellowship

Sometimes awesome live bands also make magic in the studio

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, The Sameness of Difference (Hyena): This Tulsa trio is the sonic equivalent of silly putty, able to stretch into weird, warped experimentations or snap back into delicately pointed hooks. Difference finds acrobatic keysman Brian Haas sticking to his piano's pristine, acoustic tone, while Reed Mathis orbits on bass, tweaking the instrument until it sounds like a sitar pining for an oasis. On upright, he nuzzles against Jason Smart's dynamic drumming, making Mingus' "Fables of Faubus" new again and turning the Flaming Lips' "The Spark That Bled" into a new jazz standard. (Check if you like: Ornette Coleman, Frank Zappa, Sketches of Spain)

Secret Machines, The Road Leads Where It's Led EP (Warner Bros.): While the fist-pumping bombast of Secret Machines is best served in a long-play format, the foursome of tunes that ends this EP is one of the headiest of the year. Covers of "Astral Weeks," "Money" (the Berry Gordy version), and "Girl From the North Country" descend slowly with stunning, iceberg-heavy drama and enchanted psychedelia. Back to back to back, they take on a revisionist interpretation: lost love and the cost of getting it back. Finishing with a krautrock cover, "De Lux (Immer Wieder)," this Dallas-by-way-of-NYC trio pulls back the curtain on its influences to give its fans a glimpse at the cogs that spin the machine. (Check if you like: Led Zeppelin, Neu!, Mercury Rev)

Dr. Dog, Easy Beat (National Parking): It's a loaded term, but let's spit it out and get it over with: Beatlesque is the easiest way to describe this Philly five-piece's rosy harmonies, baroque-pop arrangements, and clever, wink-and-nudge songplay. But even the B word doesn't get at the scruffy, affable grandeur of the band's smartly titled third album. After a pair of self-released, home-recorded CDs, Easy Beat was picked up by a minor indie label, the band got a nod from the New York Times, and it's been catching buzz like a college kid at Bonnaroo. Get on board now and you'll catch up in time for next year's breakout. (Check if you like: the Beatles, Steely Dan, Built to Spill)

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