BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Reed Mathis can't believe his luck, every single time.
When he was playing the cramped stage at Eclipse, back when the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey was seven members, he thought he was on top of the world.
When the band got the chance to tour and open for musical soulmates Medeski, Martin and Wood, he thought it couldn't get any better than this.
When they recorded an album live at New York City's famed Knitting Factory nightclub earlier this year, again he couldn't believe his luck.
Now he's looking ahead to the band's first sponsored jazz festival and a headlining tour across America, and he's just as amazed and thrilled as he's always been.
"I keep feeling so excited, so amazed every time things get better," he said during an interview this week. "We're so blessed."
Things have only gotten better for the Odyssey, whose steady rise through the nation's new jazz ranks culminated this year in the Knitting Factory gigs, the resulting CD, "All Is One" (out just a month and already the third highest seller in the lengthy history of Knitting Factory Records) and a mention in U.S. News and World Report as being the most promising new voice in jazz today.
The Fred boys - bassist Mathis, keyboardist Brian Haas and drummer Jason Smart - played 221 shows in 2001, but they always come home. Tulsa, in fact, means so much to them that they're launching the first (and hopefully annual) Fred Fest this weekend in town.
"This is something we've thought about for a long time, and these musicians - our friends - were totally into doing it, and doing it here," Mathis said. "We're already talking to groups about what we'll do next year."
The band hooked up with jazz pioneer Charlie Hunter after Hunter saw the band play and were wowed.
"Our people got in touch with his people, and we did a tour together," Mathis said.
The relationship lasted through two joint tours and numerous other gigs together. The day George Harrison died, Hunter sought out Jacob Fred and joined them onstage for a meaningful rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
"Charlie is the real article," Mathis said. "As far as innovative, new jazz is concerned, he's the guy. He brings a different group with him for each tour. That's a thing from the old jazz era. He composes a whole body of music for this one select, hand-picked group of musicians, they have maybe one rehearsal, then they show up for the first gig and just ice it. Next time out, he's got a whole new band."
At this weekend's show, a special guest will be joining Hunter. Hint: old Jacob Fred and new Fuzz fans will dig it.
Shortly after Fred Fest, the Odyssey will depart for another long coast-to-coast tour - this time as the headliner at every show. The gigs are downright toney now, too: Yoshi's in Oakland, the Lizard Lounge in Boston, the Village Underground in New York City, the Blue Note in Las Vegas - the great jazz clubs in every city.
They'll be home at the end of October and plan to spend the holiday season woodshedding on some new instruments - Mathis is going to try and master cello and sitar - as well as composing and rehearsing new material. Then, get this: the Odyssey's going to record its first proper studio record.
Each of the band's half-dozen releases thus far have been live recordings. After Christmas, Jacob Fred has time booked on the TU campus to record a record without an audience.
They also plan to broaden their scope widely.
"We've been listening to the Flaming Lips like they're going out of style," Mathis said. "The new record is such ear candy. Both these last records have just been incredible. It's so lush, the tapestry they paint. I wanna try some of that with Jacob Fred."
In other fawning Jacob Fred news:
Two weeks ago the trio was back at the Knitting Factory in Manhattan, where they played a sold-out show. The performance was filmed by the BET network.
"I grew up watching those shows. That's how I first saw Miles Davis," Mathis said. "I didn't go out and see bands, I got it all through TV. Now some kid from Lincoln, Neb., is going to see me in the same context."
The show should air this fall.
A feature article about Mathis will appear in the September issue of Bass Player magazine.
"That's another dream come true," he said. "You know, I never took lessons. I learned a lot from reading those magazines, so it's cool to be in there now."
Jacob Fred Jazz Festival, featuring the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, the Charlie Hunter Quartet, DJ Jeremy Sole's Musaics, Rewake and And There Stand Empires
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Curly's at the East End, 216 N. Elgin Ave.
Admission: $20 in advance - available at Starship Records, Curly's (www.curlystulsa.com) and Seasick Records (www.seasickrecords.com) - or $23 on Saturday and at the door
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.