Cassandra Wilson at Blue Note
NY Philharmonic 360 at the Park Avenue Armory

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey at the Blue Note

by Brian Weidy


There are some performances that you know will be transcendent as soon as they begin. As a part of the "Late Night Groove Series" at Blue Note, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey began their set with a brief introduction from Brian Haas, pianist and de facto group leader. He described the brutal occurrences of the race riots that occurred in Tulsa—Haas' hometown—in 1921, and how their latest album, The Race Riot Suite, chronicles those events through music.

Almost everyone in the crowd was new to the band, and only as Haas began the suite by tinkering around on his Fender Rhodes as the band moved into the second movement of the suite, "Black Wall Street," did the crowd begin to catch on. People were floored by the sheer musiciansmanship of each member of the band at first, but then, the transitions from movement to movement got the entire crowd energized, even as the clock approached 1 AM. Haas directed the band into "The Burning," a piece that evoked a sheer feeling of terror, with loud horn blasts from guest saxophonists Mark Southerland and Peter Apfelbaum creating a lush palate of sounds so evocatively, one could perfectly envision these riots.

Used as a transition point, as well as truly capturing the spirit of the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, "First Prayer" was used as a way of thematically breaking up the movements. After segueing into the down-tempo "Mt. Zion," the music quickly geared back up with "Lost in the Battle for Greenwood." The song took many turns and twists, as it went from loud, full-band onslaught to the mellow sounds of a carnival atmosphere created by Haas. Despite Haas' role as the bandleader, Combs wrote the entire suite and was the primary arranger as well; his haunting guitar work throughout the performance creating a different texture altogether.

"Grandfather's Gun" came next, which varied greatly in dynamics. "Grandfather's Gun" looked at both sides of the riots as it started with thoughtfully composed bits before breaking down into loud blasts from seemingly handmade instruments by Southerland and Apfelbaum. As the low rumble of Apfelbaum's bass saxophone coupled with Southerland's fast runs up and down the saxophone, Combs took the guitar to levels it had never seen before, creating a beautiful cacophony of sound. "Cover Up" continued this crescendo before the final movement of "Eye of the Dove" and its hushed entrance, which for more than five minutes slowly built such intensity that the audience seemed in a trance the likes of which I had never seen before.  

This 80-minute masterpiece of a performance made almost everyone in the audience into an instant fan. As the band walked off the stage and into the crowd, they were instantly greeted with hugs and high-fives from people who thought there was actually someone named Jacob Fred in the band before they began.