JACOB FRED JAZZ ODYSSEY
SAN FRANCISCO – Tulsa’s native sons are on the road, telling a dark and painful story about a long-suppressed chapter of Oklahoma’s history.
At a performance two weeks ago at the Bay Area’s premiere funk venue, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey settled into a rollicking locomotive groove evoking the territory dance bands that crisscrossed the Southwest during Prohibition. But when the group lurched suddenly into “The Burning,’’ the second movement in its extraordinary, evening-length “Race Riot Suite,’’ the wailing horns seemed to tear away the familiar, zany images of Lindy Hoppers, revealing the horrific, unpunished violence that reduced the nation’s wealthiest African-American community to ashes.
In the midst of an extensive US tour that brings the band to the Boston area tonight for the first in a series of gigs at the Lily Pad, the quartet is focusing on music from its new album “Race Riot Suite,’’ which was inspired by the 1921 pogrom that destroyed Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, the Negro Wall Street. Though the riot killed dozens and destroyed some 35 city blocks, leaving the city’s 10,000 black residents homeless, it was largely covered up and left out of historical accounts until the state issued a formal report in 2001.
“I grew up in Tulsa and the first I heard about it was in high school, but there wasn’t a lot of information available,’’ said Jacob Fred steel guitarist Chris Combs, the suite’s composer, over a meal with the band after the soundcheck. “I didn’t realize it was the worst race riot in the country and that it was unique in so many ways. The information is out there now, but it’s surprising how hard you had to look to find it.’’
Jacob Fred roared out of Tulsa in the mid-1990s and built up an avid national following through incessant touring and a savvy balance of sonically expansive improvisation and inviting grooves. The name is the product of an absurdist sense of humor and doesn’t refer to anyone who’s played in the band, but the moniker stuck. After more than a decade as a trio, the group expanded to a quartet, and the latest incarnation features Kansas City, Mo., bassist Jeff Harshbarger, Tulsa drummer Josh Raymer, and pianist Brian Haas, the only original member left.