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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey & the Race Riot Suite: Unique Inspiration

MOJA radio's Russ Davis catches up with JFJO at the Montreal Jazz Festival

Russ Davis with the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
Russ Davis with the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

I’ve known for a long time now that there really is no other band like Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. It doesn’t matter that the lineup has changed over the years, the music has always been totally unique with a spirit of creativity and inventiveness that has set this unit apart and helped them carve out their own place in the world of modern music, jazz or otherwise. The latest incarnation featuring founding father, pianist Brian Haas, lap steel player Chris Combs, drummer Josh Raymer and bassist Jeff Harshbarger, has just released one of the bravest and most ambitious projects in their 15-year history, a brilliant musical expose on the terrible events that occurred in Tulsa in 1921 when an affluent, predominately African-American part of the city known as Greenwood was burned to the ground by a racist mob that also killed hundreds of innocent people. The project is titled Race Riot Suite. When I saw that JFJO was on the lineup for the Montreal Jazz Fest I immediately made sure I would have the time to get together with the four lads for a roundtable conversation about this new project with the unusual inspiration.

Before I reveal the details of that interview I must recall some of my earlier encounters with Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, beginning with a late-night session at New York City’s Blue Note, where one of the earlier incarnations of the group played a very energetic set with guest artists like saxophonist Skerik and pianist Marco Benevento who joined with the band to really bring the heat. I thought to myself, “this is another entry in the jazzy jam band movement!” The band certainly played music from the rock repertoire and there were extended jams but this was something different. There was a unique style to this spirited performance that set them apart from piano-led combos like E.S.T., The Bad Plus and others that were dominating the modern jazz scene in the beginning of the 21st century. After I enjoyed a conversation with the guys in the studio that week I discovered more about what makes JFJO one of a kind, their unique musical vision and collective spirit.

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