When one thinks of Tulsa Oklahoma, a home to modern jazz musicians isn’t usually the first thing that occurs. But Tulsa was the breeding ground for The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Over a ten year period, the band honed their craft through thousands of live shows and nine recordings.
Their latest release, “The Sameness of Difference”, is a quintessential piece of post-modern jazz which plays tribute to a number of influences and mentors. Pianist Brian Haas, Bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Jason Smart have assembled a fantastic mix of originals and covers, each a seamless voyage to places far from Tulsa.
Stylistically, many of the songs on this album reminds me of the moody, sparse European-jazz tinged elements of The Carla Bley Band and some of the early harmonic experiments of Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, and legendary bassist Charlie Haden found on a number of ECM releases from the early eighties. Mathis uses octave pedals to create the Metheny-esque soundscapes, losing himself in meditative renditions of Hendrix’s “Have You Ever Been to Electric Ladyland” and Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”. In their more spirited moments, they take on a Chick Corea/Stanley Clarke-type fusion on originals “Santiago” and “Halliburton Breakdown”, Mathis and Haas improvising feverishly, trading off high and low ends. Throughout, Smart’s drums have a Jack DeJohnette kind of sensibility, using cymbals, high hat, and brushes effectively to fill some of the darker pieces. Producer-extraordinaire Joel Dorn touches up the trio with understated studio effects, unwilling to dilute the pure edginess of the trio.
The only downside to the album for me was the brief time slots allotted for each tune. Playing jazz is a lot like catching fireflies in a jar- the sense of play one has in such an exercise should be prolonged as much as possible before the prey is captured and ultimately released. There were a number of times where it felt like Haas, Mathis and Smart were just beginning to groove on one another, stretching out into uncharted territory when the songs ended. Maybe this is a result of the limitations of radio play, or maybe the band wanted to fit as many of their favorite pieces as they could into an hour. Whatever the reason, the short lengths made it difficult at times to feel apart of the odyssey. In many ways, the album is like a cruise ship which docks at several beautiful and engaging ports of call, yet sadly, the travelers have little time to explore what’s beyond the facade.
Still, “The Sameness of Difference” is worth several listens. It will remain fresh for years to come while up and comers aspire playing on the same level of craftsmanship as The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Perhaps Haas, Mathis and Smart will be the inspiration for younger Oklahoman’s playing jazz in the basements and garages of Tulsa, and give the town a reputation for continuing the pioneering musical spirit inherent in jazz’s legacy.