By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Every time the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is listed in a
festival bill, it's always followed by “alternative.''
It's a moniker the group can live with, even boast of, and a
truer word was never written. This is a jazz band that has been
known to have mosh pits at its shows, and its members speak
intensely of how its performances “rock.'' These guys don't just
want to blow their horns — they want to blow them in your face.
“We can really freak out sometimes,'' said keyboardist Brian
Haas. “A lot of times it's very chaotic.''
It's true. A Jacob Fred show can be very sweaty. People get
up, shake a leg and holler — no polite applause here. Which is,
after all, what jazz got people doing in the first place.
“After a show, I'm ready to just drop,'' Haas said. “Our
audiences usually are, too. Sometimes we forget that they need a
Haas is the epitome of the Jacob Fred aura: he uses the word
“cats'' a lot when referring to his colleagues, and his finesse on
his Fender Rhodes electric piano defies all preconceived notions
his shaved head and questionable fashion decisions may conjure.
Jacob Fred, that is, starts with the esteemed traditional and
pushes it, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the '90s.
“We're picking up where Miles Davis left off as far as
pushing the music forward,'' Haas said. “Since he died, the
momentum in jazz has kind of slowed down, and we're trying to rev
it up again.''
It's a bold claim from a bunch of University of Tulsa
upstarts with homework to do after the show, but if Fate is good
enough to smile on them, this band could one day stretch out that
legacy and blow people away all over the nation.
“There are so many reissues going on, and no one's doing
anything very exciting,'' said Matt Leland, on trombone. “All Blue
Note (Records) does anymore is cater to the crowd that made it big,
and they're all old now. Someday they'll all die off and what are
the younger ones going to have? It's a prime time to shake things
One listen to Jacob Fred's debut CD will confirm the “shake
things up'' plan. The disc, “Live at the Lincoln Continental,''
was recorded from gigs at Tulsa's Eclipse and Club One and is a
perfect primer to the Jacob Fred ... well ... jazz odyssey.
Featuring material written by four of the band's eight members, the
CD scans the chaos of influences that somehow coalesces into their
“Every single one of us is coming from a totally different
place,'' Haas said. “The more we play together, the less (the
music) becomes an individual thing and the more it becomes a group
dynamic ... We just love playing together, fortunately. A jazz
ensemble like this doesn't happen very often. We're all so very
different, but we say our thing through the same mouthpiece. That's
what makes our shows rock.''
“Live at the Lincoln Continental'' starts off with the quick
funk of “Pimpnotic,'' then moves through the alarming chase-scene
score of “I Love Steve Haas,'' the cool suspicion of “Behind the
Barricades'' and the pinnacle of barely-tamed madness, “Lorna's
Calypso.'' You name the influence; it's in there.
“There are so many schisms within jazz,'' said Leland,
crafter of half the songs on the disc. “We come from a very
traditional base and add something to it. I mean, it's 1995 and we
have each grown up listening to a lot of different music that has
influenced us. What we produce may not sound 'traditional,' but we
approach everything from the traditional and build from there.''
These aren't punks out to throw wrenches into the system,
either. The members of Jacob Fred are not whacking axes and banging
drums because it's fun and obnoxious, and they're certainly not
doing it for the money (every gig's copious compensation must be
split eight ways). Each composition is a carefully wrought idea
forged with a youthful fury and finesse.
“We come from a strong songwriting base,'' Leland said.
“We're most concerned with conveying the idea of the songs, not so
much with how high and fast we can play. The audience gets bored
with fast notes and showing off real quick. You don't have to
dazzle them. They have more fun with the ideas of the songs.''
“If you're up there playing bulls—-, they know it,'' piped
in Kyle Wright, a shy guy but a powerful Gabriel on trumpet.
Such wisdom from men dead set on “taking jazz to the MTV
crowd.'' Oh, the thinks they could think!
The name, incidentally, is derived from Haas' former CB
handle, Jacob Fred. It's also the name he would use in junior high
when he would call a girl and wake up her parents. “Who is this?''
they would demand. “Mr. Fred,'' he would say.
The band is Wright, Leland, Haas, Rod Mackey on saxophones,
Dove McHargue on guitar (check him out on “Lorna's Calypso''!),
Reed Mathis on bass, Sean Layton on drums and Matt Edwards on
percussion. All but two are or were TU students, though the band is
not affiliated in any way with the school.
“Our professors hate us,'' Haas said.
The unique crossover ability of Jacob Fred allows them to
play any kind of gig. Frequent staples of such rock dens as Eclipse
and Club One, they also easily fit into the local jazz festivals.
“We can still get hired for receptions and kick back and
swing,'' Haas said. “We can do it all.''
Check them out this month at a benefit for the A.D.A.M.S.
Theater on Aug. 19, Aug. 29 at Eton Square Shopping Center (in
front of Uno's) and Aug. 31 at Cafe 66 in Norman.
The CD can be found at Starship Records and Tapes, Mohawk
Music, Media Play, Sound Warehouse, Camelot Music in Eastland Mall
and the CD Warehouse.
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.