Friday, April 10, 2009

Just the jazziest 'Odyssey' you'll ever go on

By Meredith Deliso

(Published in the 4.16.09 issue of 24/Seven)

The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey are used to packed shows. Two years ago, when the band last played Southpaw, the Park Slope venue had a full house. Earlier this year, when the Tulsa, Okla.-based jazz band debuted their new, four-piece lineup, they did so to a sold-out crowd during the NYC Winter Jazz Festival.

When they return to Southpaw this April 15, expect no less than lines around the block, as this time around, the band – comprised of Haas, drummer Josh Raymer, upright bassist Matt Hayes and guitarist Chris Combs, will also have Peter Apfelbaum in tow.

So far, 2009 has been quite the year for the band, led by pianist Brian Haas, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. In addition to adding a new member to their lineup and that debut show, the band released “Winterwood,” their eighteenth album.

JFJO’s creativity is in full force on their inventive new album, 13 tracks that start at one place and pull the listener along on the band’s, wait for it, odyssey. A track like “Songs of a Viper,” for instance, goes from old-timey pickin’ and piano riffs that jump off the track to being interspersed with synth and furious piano for an unexpected tug of war between the old and the new (the victor seems to emerge on the electronicy track “Oklahoma Stomp,” which is nothing like what you’d hear at a hoedown). “A-Bird” sounds like a B-side to Radiohead’s “Amnesiac,” just minus any vocals. Simple prettiness isn’t lost in all this experimentation, such as on oddly charming “Walking Before Daylight.”

Sitting on the album for a while after a disagreement with their record company, the band decided to release the record themselves on their Web site, all 13 tracks for free.

If Griffin had any doubts about releasing the album at no cost online, they were immediately squashed by the response in the week following the release. In just four weeks, the band’s e-mail list went from over 5,000, the total in the band’s decade-plus existence, to over 10,000. And they’ve seen an increase in their audience attendance as well.

“From our standpoint, it was the most successful capitalism we’ve ever engage in, ironically,” says Griffin. “We’d had a lot more people at shows, and more interest in the band in general. We got way more people listening to our music for free than if we tried to sell it. We just want people listening to the music and getting them out to the live shows.”

Haas was so impressed by the results, he followed suit and decided to release his own solo project, “Petting Sounds,” for free on his own Web site. Beach Boys fans will recognize the play off their album “Pet Sounds.” An improvised symphony for solo piano, Haas’ album was made using the same mixing board that was used for “Pet Sounds.”

“I thought ‘Petting Sounds’ was a catchy title,” says Haas. “It’s also soothing, beautiful music.”

And while we’re on the subject of names, Haas was inspired by another musical project in the anointing of his band (which has no one named Jacob or Fred), pulling from Spinal Tap’s “Jazz Odyssey” and the made up name Jacob Fred, one he was obsessed with as a kid, to get JFJO.
While in Brooklyn, the band will be joined by a big name in the contemporary jazz scene – saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum.

“He’s one of our heroes,” says Griffin, who’s also looking forward to the Brooklyn show to just be in the borough. “It’s such a vibrant music scene all unto itself over there. I always look forward to being in the city, especially Brooklyn.”

Once their back home in Tulsa, there’s more work to be done for the band, which is getting ready for a gig later this fall with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, a performance of Beethoven’s Third and Sixth Symphonies together but rearranged by the jazz quartet, as well as finishing a new record of jazz standards with vocalist Annie Ellicott.

“It already feels like I did a whole year. Is it 2010?” jokes Griffin. “There’s so much going on, I can barely keep track.”

The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey play Southpaw (125 Fifth Ave.) on April 15 at 9 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets are $10 in advance, available for purchase at, or $15 the day of the show. To hear more of Brian Haas, go to


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