Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is a band founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1994. Currently a quintet with members in Tulsa, Kansas City, & Santa Fe, the bands lineup consists of Brian Haas on piano, Chris Combs on lap steel, Josh Raymer on drums, Jeff Harshbarger on double bass, & Mark Southerland on saxophone & homemade horns. Since its inception JFJO has brought their impressionistic and improvisational vision from the Midwest to many of the world’s finest music festivals and clubs. Music lovers and critics are blown away by JFJO’s instrumental virtuosity and creativity, musical risk, and near telepathic communication on stage.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is the evolution of an ongoing musical discourse that’s been developed during 18 years of touring. Starting out in Tulsa, OK as a funky octet with MCs and horns, JFJO became an instrumental trio in 1999 and a quartet at the end of 2008. The band is known for having invented it’s own improvisatory language, one which has permeated JFJO’s sound regardless of it’s configuration.
In 18 years the band has released 21 records and toured the top venues in the world such as the Jazz Standard in NYC, Damrosch Bandshell at Lincoln Center in NYC, Blue Note NYC and Milan Italy, Yoshi’s in Oakland, Bimhuis in Amsterdam and Fasching in Stockholm Sweden, to name a few. JFJO has also frequented the jazz festival circuit, performing across the globe from Berlin to Brazil to Finland and back. In recent years the band has performed some of their highest profile festival performances to date, such as the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, and the Cork Jazz Festival in Ireland, where the band won a Guinness Jazz Award. These four musicians are musical chameleons who can move crowds in small jazz clubs, big rock clubs and performing arts theaters. Flourishing in the “jam” scene as well, the band has opened for Mike Gordon of Phish, Sound Tribe Sector Nine (sts9), Les Claypool, and held main-stage slots at many of the scene’s largest festivals.
In September 2009 JFJO released the EP ‘One Day in Brooklyn’. The EP marked the debut of the new quartet lineup in the studio setting as well as the first release on JFJO’s new record label, Kinnara Records, which is distributed by Sony Red/MRI. The new quartet lineup, album, and tour received rave reviews from Billboard and Downbeat to the New York Times and the LA Weekly.
With the addition of Combs on lap steel and Jeff Harshbarger on upright bass, JFJO has perhaps invented its own genre: Red Dirt Jazz. This new sound is equal parts earthy and nimble, pastoral and sweeping, elegant and rollicking. JFJO is tapping into their birthright, drawing upon “The Tulsa Sound” born of hometown heroes like Bob Wills, JJ Cale, and Leon Russell. These roots grow up into a jazz foundation that’s built firmly upon the likes of Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk.
2010 found JFJO releasing The Sensation of Seeing light, a 7″ vinyl single, for Record Store Day in April, as well as releasing their LP “Stay Gold” on both CD & double 12″ vinyl in June. Both albums were released by JFJO’s record label Kinnara Records and are exclusively distributed in partnership with the Royal Potato Family and MRI/RED. To support these releases the band toured the East Coast and West Coast in the US as well as a month in Europe, all before the year was half way through.
After years of labor, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s reinterpretations of Beethoven’s 3rd & 6th Symphonies premiered in June 2010 as a project entitled ‘Ludwig’. The project, which rearranged Beethoven’s 3rd and 6th symphonies, was premiered alongside a 50 piece orchestra on June 12th as a headline performance at the OK Mozart Festival. Downbeat is calling ‘Ludwig’ “a tour de force of jazz melded with classical.”
JFJO’s reinterpretations channel the spirits of not only Beethoven & Karajan but Led Zeppelin & Radiohead as well. Haas was thrilled to be able to return to his classical roots and describes the project as “Ellington’s Far East Suite meets the Flaming Lips,” complete with intricate arrangements, in-the-moment improvisations, and big rock breakdowns.
In January 2011 JFJO recorded a suite of music based on the Tulsa Race Riot. For its 21st album, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey reached into the dark annals of its hometown’s history and emerged with a masterwork: The Race Riot Suite. Written, arranged and orchestrated by Chris Combs, the album is a long-form conceptual piece that tells the devastating story of the 1921 Tulsa race riot– a real estate-driven ethnocide occurring under the guise of citizen-dispensed justice. The oil-elite, civic government and local press colluded to take advantage of a racially tense climate in Jim Crow-era Oklahoma, resulting in the death of hundreds of black Tulsans and the destruction of an entire city district. “The adventurous jazz band’s latest project pays tribute to Tulsa’s Greenwood community, destroyed in a 1921 race riot, while evoking the creative output of 1920s Oklahoma…the score captures the energy of Greenwood’s fervent churchgoers and the rollicking territory dance bands that crisscrossed the Southwest.” says the Los Angeles Times.
Through propulsive rhythms and melodies, the album reflects an onlooker’s journey through the night that changed Tulsa’s landscape and nearly destroyed the country’s most thriving black community. The music is at times nostalgic, bombastic, anguished and mournful, yet ultimately a celebration of the Greenwood community and its unflinching resiliency. The Boston Globe says the Suite is “a beautifully orchestrated, melodically rich piece that celebrates Greenwood as much as it laments the wanton violence that destroyed the neighborhood”.
In addition to the permanent line-up of Combs (lap steel), Brian Haas (piano), Josh Raymer (drums) and Jeff Harshbarger (bass), the quartet enlisted the assistance of world class horn players Jeff Coffin (Bela Fleck, Dave Matthews Band), Steven Bernstein (Sex Mob, Levon Helm), Peter Apfelbaum (Hieroglyphics, Don Cherry), Mark Southerland (Snuff Jazz) and Matt Leland (a founding JFJO member).
In Fall of 2012 The Race Riot Suite reached #1 on the CMJ Jazz chart. The North American album release tour included two nights at the Jazz Standard in NYC, the Boom Boom Room in San Francisco, the University of California San Diego, as well as a performances at North Sea Jazz Festival,Montreal Jazz Festival, High Sierra Music Festival, & the Bear Creek Music Festival.
Time Out New York says that “…the 12-part suite pinballs between majestic melodies, free improv and ragged New Orleans rhythms, sometimes all within the same song…expect a heavy dose of history, but an even heavier dose of forward-looking, down-home jazz.” Click here for more info on The Race Riot Suite project, released August 30th, 2011.
After 18 years JFJO’s music continues to offer a unique and different sound that exhibits a rare form of abstract yet accessible musical freedom and inquiry. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey has blossomed into one of the most visionary and fearless bands touring the world today.