Live Jazz: The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey at The Mint

By Devon Wendell

The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey took stage at The Mint on Saturday night with a keen sense of eclectic influences ranging from Thelonious Monk and Rashaan Roland Kirk to The Beatles and Sonic Youth.

The Tulsa Oklahoma natives (Brian Haas: electric piano and band leader, Josh Raymer: drums, Chris Combs: lap steel guitar, and Matt Hayes on upright bass) began their set with “The Sensation Of Seeing Light,” a loose, up-tempo progression that immediately established Combs as the most interesting instrumentalist.  Using a lap-steel guitar in a modern fusion jazz quartet with a row of guitar effects, the sound he produced was closer to an electric violin than an orthodox, country-inspired steel player. Combs wove in and out of the piece with a delightfully ethereal sound and minimalist phrasing.

But, unfortunately, the group was marred by sound problems from the very start. Hass’s Fender Rhodes electric keyboard was overwhelmingly loud, drowning out the bass completely and making it difficult to hear Combs. Raymer also seemed to be fighting to be heard in the mix and “The Sensation of Seeing Light” eventually fell apart, with all eyes on the sound man.

“Iman” (from the group’s current CD, One Day In Brooklyn) was much more cohesive with its latter-day, Sun Ra Arkestra feel. Though Haas’s keyboard was still too loud, Raymer’s drumming got its first and only chance to shine with character and a hip-hop-, soul-inspired percussion sound.

Introducing “Drethoven,” Haas explained to the audience, “This next number is dedicated to our two favorite composers, Beethoven and Doctor Dre.”   The composition easily summed up the band’s diverse set of influences, adventure, and wit.  Haas’ keyboard fused a sinister and muddy minor key West Coast hip-hop melody with percussive classical chords. He also played the melodica in unison to Combs haunting steel guitar work, creating some effective call and response, which was eventually abandoned as the group drifted into some clichéd, self-indulgent jamming.

The evening’s highlight was “Trampoline Phoenix” — a psychedelic nursery rhyme with the sensation of Thelonious Monk arm wrestling The Meters.  Haas and company were more subdued, allowing for more musical interplay and thematic purpose.  But the band began to lose its way toward the end of the set and both “Hanbee’s Rainbow” and “The Return” were redundant, as the band jammed themselves past musical coherency, sounding lost and sloppy.

Closing the program with Louis Armstrong’s “The Song of the Vipers,” Hass dedicated it to all of the “ganja smokers in the audience.”  This rendition, however,  gave the impression that a little less pot smoke and lot more focus would have helped hold the tune together.  Combs again was the shinning star, quoting “Satchmo’s” trumpet lines on his lap-steel, passing them through a volume pedal to mimic a muted trumpet.

It was obvious at The Mint that The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey had some adventurous ideas as musicians and composers.  But more often they lapsed too freely into a jam band realm, robbing their brief set of consistency, discipline, and focus.

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