BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Brian Haas has been knocked out by his progressive jazz band's new acoustic music.
One performance that was slated for the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's latest CD, "Telluride Is Acoustic," had to be cut from the record because of an unwanted noise: Haas's head hitting the piano.
"We're doing all these acoustic performances now, right? Well, I'm not used to acoustic pianos. They have this lip that comes down over the keys, and — you know me — I was moving around pretty hard one night at this festival, and I whacked my head so hard on that part of the piano that I blacked out for a second or two," Haas said in a conversation this week. "The audience saw me go back, and I caught myself just before falling over. I actually don't remember much of the show, but there were oxygen tanks and people with ice packs waiting for me when I got off stage. My forehead looked like a Klingon's.
"And then we couldn't use that track on the record because in the middle of it there's this huge (ITAL)thonk!(END ITAL). It sounds like someone whacks the piano with a baseball bat."
The new disc is still hard-hitting. Recorded live at this summer's Telluride Jazz Festival, it spotlights the Tulsa-based, nationally acclaimed jazz group in a rare acoustic mode.
The Jacob Fred trio has gained widespread attention from coast to coast during the last few years for its electric — in every sense of the word — performances. Haas punishes his Fender Rhodes keyboard while Reed Mathis plays his electric bass like Hendrix on guitar. The only truly naturally acoustic performer in the band has been drummer Jason Smart.
But occasionally — such as this weekend's rare evening performance — the guys enjoy unplugging. The results usually highlight the band's traditional roots, roots which are often more difficult to discern amid the screaming electrons.
"It's changed a lot for us," Haas said. "We're now totally accepted in trad jazz circles."
The new acoustic yearnings grew out of the circumstances of the band's latest cross-country swing. Their 2002 Ancient Creatures Tour, the band's first solely headlining swing in several years, landed them in more upscale jazz venues, such as Yoshi's in Oakland. Most of these clubs have quality house pianos, and Haas couldn't resist.
"Whenever we'd pull up to a club and found out they had a nice acoustic grand, my Rhodes didn't even come out of the trailer," Haas said. "We'd sometimes have the clubs provide Reed with an upright bass, or we had friends that would lend them. I just have to do it when it's an option."
It's an option this weekend, for sure. Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame president Chuck Cissel encountered the Jacob Fred phenomenon in August when he met and saw the band at its first Fred Fest concert downtown. Haas continued the conversation at the Hall of Fame on Greenwood Avenue — and he saw the organization's piano.
"He came by to talk about the 2002 Autumn Jazz series, because I wanted them to be a part of it," Cissel said this week. "We have a beautiful 9-foot grand piano, and when Brian saw it and played around on it, he said, 'I've gotta do this.' They're the biggest thing in progressive jazz now, so we definitely wanted that kind of energy to come to the Hall of Fame."
The Jacob Fred boys are taking an extended rest here at home throughout the holidays. They're gigging lightly around the metro area while they woodshed a few new tunes — and on a few new instruments — before tackling a studio recording after Christmas. All six Jacob Fred albums thus far have been live recordings.
The trio will be back in the Northeast this spring. They've got residencies at two clubs throughout the month of April: Tuesday nights at the Middle East in Boston and Wednesday nights at the Mercury Lounge in New York City.
"Telluride Is Acoustic" is a limited edition disc and should be available locally at Starship Records and the midtown Borders Books and Music.
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.