Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" was in full swing over the sound system when local rockers Something in the Water took the stage and did a brief sound check before beginning their set. They ran through a 45-minute set of jazz-tinged blues-rock. Often sounding like a cross between Stone Gossard and Jimi Hendrix, Wayne Kimler handled his guitar like a pro. I was impressed with how clean the guitar tone was throughout the set, especially with some of the fuzz-laden and overdriven sections.
Drummer Kevin Helmsing pounded the skins as well as handled the vocals, keeping great time and adding some nice fills without overpowering the rest of the group. Bassist Ben Wheeler had the groove well in place, but some of his high-end sound was lost in the mix. He was knocking out some tasty upper register notes and four string chords, but everything above the 12th fret on the A and E strings was inaudible.
Despite some minor power issues (it looked like the bass/drums were vibrating the leads for Wayne's pedal board out of the power strip), Something in the Water knocked out a pleasant, groove-laden set.
After a short delay, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey set up shop and proceeded to blow minds and offer new perspectives for the next two hours. JFJO has been in existence for 18 years and has 21 albums under its belt. Despite having such a long history and catalog of music, it is still nearly impossible to describe them. You can call their performances experimental, improvisational or avant-jazz, but those terms don't even begin to scratch the surface.
Musically, the band is made up of some of the finest musicians on the planet. Pianist Biran Haas literally threw himself into his Fender Rhodes with every note. Bassist Jeff Harshbarger plucked and bowed his bass like a man possessed while Chris Combs worked his lap steel with precision that would put Speedy West to shame. Drummer Josh Raymer looked like a double-jointed puppet being operated by an over-caffeinated puppeteer. Guest horn player Mark Southerland was at center stage, honking and squealing on his tenor sax, clarinet, and homemade horn like a king before his court.
The show consisted of tracks from their newest release "Race Riot Suite," which tells the story of the 1921 Tulsa race riot, which destroyed 32 blocks of Tulsa's Greenwood district and many lives in a 16-hour span. The group transitioned between sounding like a freewheeling Dixieland ensemble to a carousel with a broken speed control to something sleazier than an East Side gentleman's club at a second's notice, and often in the same song.
When they hit a groove, they were fantastic. When they were branching out into more improvised territory the sounds overlapped and formed a cacophony of sound that somehow still made sense despite the difference between the parts. Often throughout the pieces I couldn't tell whether the wailing notes were coming from the sax or lap steel, and the rumbling bass from the piano and double bass were occasionally indistinguishable from one another. It really fit in well with the theme of the suite, in that during the chaos and calamity of a riot people tend to get confused and overwhelmed.
Certain musical styles should be experienced in a live setting to truly understand the total picture the artist is attempting to convey. You can hear the output on an album and see live footage, but even the most state of the art recording technology can't replicate the amount of energy the artists share with the fans and each other. Despite a rather small turnout, JFJO played as if the place was packed. There were a few points in the show were the band was throwing out so much energy that it was overwhelming. It was also rather eerie to watch them start and stop in unison, almost as if they were psychically linked.
Prior to the show, I had not seen or heard anything from Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey other than a few songs from online videos. I went in with a very vague idea of what I should expect and was completely blown away by the spectacle I witnessed. This is one group I will go out of my way to see anytime they're close to town.