Chris Combs – Combsy (2017)

Share this:

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s guitarist, lap steel player and composer Chris Combs has long been talented enough to make his own record and now he finally did it. Combsy (October 13, 2017 via Horton Records) is the formal solo introduction of a key member of the Tulsa-based brokers of progressive-leaning fusion, who stays on the fringes where idioms fiercely collide and the ideas neatly combine.

Combs was the mastermind behind the JFJO opus The Race Riot Suite (2011), an inspirational meshing of early jazz with modern avant stylings set to a century-old tragic event with present-day implications. For Combsy, Combs scales back to a smaller ensemble and the ambition isn’t quite as grand but there isn’t any doubt that the same musically fertile mind who went to work on both projects, which both go way back and way forward at once.

Combsy is nine songs but a single vibe. A liquid mixture of country, indie rock and jazz, the elusiveness of where the music falls is often the very thing that draws you in. Combs’ lap steel gives it a touch of twang but it grooves too much for country. His glistening guitar, synth drones and loops hints at indie or post-rock but there’s too much lush, sophisticated arrangements to neatly peg it there. The saxes and trombone suggest Ellington flourishes but the music has a contemporary edginess that Ellington never would have contemplated. You can find all of those facets surface right off in the slightly trippy “Versus” track that opens the album.

Certainly his composing and arranging had much to do with this, but maybe it’s also the way Combs laid down the tracks: starting with kernel recordings of him on guitar, pedal steel, synths and electronic-ky noises along with Andrew Bones on drums/percussion and Aaron Boehler on bass, the trio tapes were shipped to New Orleans for some jazzing up by Carly Meyers (trombone), Brad Walker (tenor sax) and Dan Oestreicher (bari and bass saxes).

Among the many standouts is “Cosmic Trigger,” a droned-out groove with a hint of hip-hop and capped with a provocative lap steel solo. “1939” is like a slow tango, and descending minor chord progressions with Bones’ vibes, Combs jazz guitar and the three-horn section are all equal partners in contributing to this sad melody. And that Combs mastery of casting pre-war jazz in a contemporary groove shows up on “East Tulsa Stomp,” his pedal steel partaking in the swinging horn charts.

The main takeaway from Combsy is that it makes clear how firmly integral Chris Combs is to the band he joined in 2009. Sure, it’s strongly recommended for those who like the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, but this fuller impression of Combs’ offbeat musical personality is a treat all unto itself.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
Share this:
Close