For its 21st album, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey reaches into the dark annals of its hometown’s history and emerges with the masterwork: Race Riot Suite. Conceived, written and arranged by the band’s lap steel guitarist Chris Combs, the recording is a long form conceptual piece that tells the tragic story of the 1921 Tulsa race riot. JFJO’s core line-up, which in addition to Combs includes Brian Haas (piano), Jeff Harshbarger (bass) and Josh Raymer (drums), is accompanied by a five-piece horn section featuring Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Peter Apfelbaum (tenor and baritone saxophone), Jeff Coffin (tenor saxophone), Mark Southerland (tenor saxophone) and Matt Leland (trombone). The album was produced by Costa Stasinopoulos and recorded at Tulsa’s legendary Church Studio less than a mile from where the riot happened.
In 1921, Tulsa was home to a powerful and affluent African-American community. In one of the largest racial conflicts and cover-ups in American history, massive race riots resulted in the death of hundreds of black Tulsans and the destruction of the entire Greenwood city district, including “Black Wall Street.” With jittery melodies, propulsive rhythms and swirling improvisations, JFJO reflects on one of the least understood atrocities of the Jim Crow-era. As the Race Riot Suite unfolds, however, the music ultimately offers light amid the darkness, celebrating the resiliency of community and offering a prayer for the terrible mistakes of the past to never again be repeated. Race Riot Suite is the latest in a long lineage of jazz albums that have brought awareness to civil rights issues, including those by Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington and Max Roach.