Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey – Xerox Auditorium – Rochester, NY


Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey was one of the many impressive acts who performed at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival this year. Making a stop during their tour of the East Coast to enlighten us with their progressive jazz sound and powerful stage presence, the group consists of Brian Haas (piano), Chris Combs (lap steel), Jeff Harshbarger (upright bass), Josh Raymer (drums), and guest artist Mark Southerland (saxophone).  This trip, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is bringing to life their newest project, The Race Riot Suite.

Consisting of twelve movements and incorporating a slew of horn players, represented today by Mark Southerland, the band is based in jazz but overlaps into genres of classical and funk, with a focus on changing from album to album, expressing their extreme knack for diversity in music.  Their latest album- innovative in both musical language and humanitarian efforts- seeks to increase awareness of the Tulsa race riot tragedy of 1921.

The wide dynamic range of the performance struck me immediately. The room would get so quiet you could zip up your jacket (it was an oddly cold summer night) and overpower the music. Conversely, the music would often swell to such great, screaming heights… A cacophony of sound. And, possibly one of the most important things to note, the use of pauses in the music… The brief silences almost seem to reflect the lack of voice in the victims of the Tulsa race riots and similar historical events.

The musician’s have a unique ability to coax sound out of their instruments to fit whatever they find appropriate in the moment together. Mark’s transformed instruments were even designed to create abnormal sounds, in comparison to their traditional counterpart. One instrument consisting of a mouthpiece, a long, flexible tube, and the bell at the end, was swung around his head while he blew into the mouthpiece, as if forcefully launching sound in every direction.

At times, there seemed to be an unspoken communication between the instruments themselves. The sounds of the saxophone melding with the lap steel, when sharing the melody, created a completely new sound that really displays the soul of the group… It felt like you were amidst a wild circus act. At other times, you are soothed by the melodic phrases and simple progressions… The new sound is exciting and engaging.  Though there were times I thought things would fly off the handle, they never ceased to keep it together, confident in their poly-rhythms and syncopation, trading off solos and improvisations seamlessly.

This is a band for the jazz fanatic or any music enthusiast who is looking for a new palate of color in the compositional world. I asked Brian and Chris what they wanted people to take away from their music and, in addition to learning more about a tragedy in American history, it was to be inspired to express oneself freely. I took away from it the inspiration to find more artists who are writing their own music language to fit the message they want to put out into the world. These are the people who are over-stepping boundaries to make a difference, to inspire new ideas, and to re-invigorate the music scene. The energy and life put into Jacob Fred’s performance on stage is inspiring in itself for anyone with a passion, whatever it may be. I think the message here is do what you love to do and love the way you do it. There’s no doubt that every one of the musicians on stage and on the recording are “in” it.

They were present today in Rochester… Completely in the moment and loving it, and that’s something I really love to see

– Sara Joy Tiberio

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