Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
Race Riot Suite
Who knew such whacked-out music could come from Tulsa? Hell, anywhere! The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey formed in 1994 in Oklahoma, playing a form of jazz that quite literally doesn’t sound like anyone, at any time. You could see Charlie Mingus leading this band, with perhaps the riotous Rahsaan Roland Kirk on whatever he could his hands on, alongside the piano and lap steel guitar. Think of it as prog-jazz — a sort of Primus meets Zappa in the French Quarter.
The title, Race Riot Suite refers to the 1921 Tulsa race riot that was kept largely from the white residents’ eyes and erased from the history books. Two days in the end of May saw the wealthiest African-American community in the United States burned to the ground. The “official” death toll was 35, but black residents say it was up to ten times higher than that. Written and arranged by guitarist Chris Combs, the music captures the horror of the night, entirely instrumental. Keyboardist Brian Haas overdrives his Fender Rhodes electric piano until it bleeds, while the rhythm section of Jeff Harshbarger on double bass and Josh Raymer on drums provides a rock-solid foundation. The five-piece horn section sounds at times like a New Orleans brass band, stomping and swaggering until you almost think the music will explode — much like Tulsa did back in 1921.
This is easily the album of the year for 2011. Nothing comes close in execution or expression. In a time when jazz music is either smooth elevator blandness, or well-mannered retreads of 50-year-old legends, this is jazz with a pulse. To hear what the JFJO sounds like live, download their Noise Trade EP Under The Belfry. Be warned: this ain’t your parents’ jazz. No, Race Riot Suite and the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey are too revolutionary for that. This is music that makes you think, react and be astonished. Essential listening.