Chris Combs: Jacob Fred's Tulsa Tale
The album continues to move into the aftermath of the riot. Combs explains, "'Lost in the Battle of Greenwood' is the funeral dirge for those lost in the riot. It also reflects the infinite resilience of Greenwood. 'Grandfather's Gun' is a piece about an infamous picture of a young white boy during the riot with two guns. His expression seems to be a mix of pride and sadness. This is his walk home. 'Cover Up' refers to a deliberate cover-up following the riot perpetrated by Tulsa's civic leaders who many, at the time, were members of the Ku Klux Klan. There are articles from local papers that allegedly called publicly for the attempted lynching that started the riot that have been crudely cut and removed from local archives. There wasn't a government-sanctioned search for fact until the National Parks Department Reconnaissance Survey that was conducted in 2001."
Before the final "prayer" is played, the penultimate track, "Eye of the Dove," brings the story to the present. "It brings us to modern times," said Combs. "This is our generation and the new and different challenges we face as humans striving to create and recreate America. I feel like we have a lot of work to do in this generation, a lot of healing."
For Combs, he is not alone in creating a work of this scope, especially not in the company of some of his favorite musicians. "The Suite is highly influenced by bands like the Flaming Lips and Radiohead who both tend to operate in a larger scope. I've always been attracted to that kind of stuff, albums by bands like Pink Floyd, Flaming Lips, albums like[John Coltrane's] A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965), etc. Fans of those bands have come to expect genuine and unique music that is intellectually and emotionally gratifying. I see a lot of parallels between our musics."
And within this logic lies the key to Jacob Fred's successthe pursuance of diversity. The band mentions Ornette Coleman and Bob Wills in the same breath and praises both Tom Waits and John Coltrane without batting an eyelid. For Combs and the rest of the band, diversity is not an active pursuit as much as it is a personal reflection. "In a lot of ways, musical diversity is the most natural thing for us to do. The easiest way to look at it is that's what our record collections look like. Our iPods are full of music from throughout the spectrum of taste and time That's just how our generation hears music."
It's not just the band's inner machinations that represent its diversity. JFJO's activity as a working ensemble has placed them all over the world, within the full spectrum of possibilities. "One of the first 'jazz' bands I really got into as a teenager was Medeski, Martin & Wood," says Combs. "I quickly realized they were part of a rich lineage of musical revolutionaries dating back to turn of the century America. I think people can connect some of the same dots with JFJO. We occupy a diverse identity that allows us to play to a wide variety of audiences. This summer we played Montreal Jazz Festival and High Sierra Music Festival in the same weekend. To me, JFJO retains much of what I love about jazz, and also much of what I love about big, loud, rock and roll. We remain true to the music and ourselves and I believe people can feel that and relate to it, regardless of genre preconceptions.
However, it needs to be mentioned that, for however cosmopolitan and worldly JFJO presents itself, Combs and the rest of the band stay very true to their Okie roots. Like The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, Combs and the rest of the band still reside in the Midwest and their roots only grow stronger. "We love living in Tulsa," Combs enthuses. "The city has shaped us as people and the music scene has shaped us as musicians. Tulsa is undergoing a fantastic renaissance right now and there is a beautiful scene of people redefining what it means to exist in the Midwest. There is a lot to be learned, both from the treacherous and evil actions of some and the benevolence and resilience of others. Our bassist, Jeff Harshbarger, lives in Kansas City, MO where there is a powerful music art scene that embraces the traditional as well as the avant-garde. The KCMO community has made a huge aesthetic impact on JFJO.
"I've done a lot of living here," Combs states simply. And so long as the open plains and red dirt of the Midwest continue to inspire such creativity, JFJO's fans should only hope that the group does even more living there.