Chris Combs for some time had been a crucial element of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, adding not just angles to the group’s sound but real curves. Playing the slide guitar will do that. So hearing his new solo project, aptly titled Combsy, will already provide some direction of the adventurous weirdness one would expect from a group of Combs’ musical inclinations, for Combsy also has its fair share of curves.
Combsy takes the same seriously whimsical approach one knows from JFJO but turns up the weird factor a couple of notches while managing to be more direct. This may be a result of arranging for a formidable septet. The horn section here is particularly boisterous– upfront, muscular and proud. They in combination with Combs’ synths provide the structure for these songs. There’s a jazz sensibility here, of course, but there’s that structure is moreso to act as bedding for Combs’ other instrumentation, particularly his guitar and his lap steel, to really get out there and stretch.
There’s a darkness to the tones on this album, like these songs feel gritty and murky. They’re also not that long. Opener “Versus” doesn’t even broach six minutes and it’s still the longest song on the album. “East Tulsa Stomp” gives the horns a role larger than that of support. “Times Are Hard For Dreamers” has that steady roll, provided in large part by Andrew Bones’ percussion, that hums along like the band is going on an arduous run before the weirdness starts to settle in. “So Long Uncle Walter” finds some somberness before veering into new territories. There’s a lot here on Combsy, but while it has the tone of something that could accurately be described as “spooky”, it finds so many different dimensions to this sound and the discipline to seek them out.
It’s fair to say if you like JFJO, you’re probably going to like Combsy. Chris Combs’ sensibilities as a player and composer are still here but the walls have come down and now there’s so much more room for different things here. It’s a quick, swirly, kind of weird album that lingers on the brain for a while and is so succinct in length that revisiting it often is by no means out of the question. Combs has a good thing going here.
Chris Combs – guitar, lap steel, synthesizers, programming
Aaron Boehler – bass
Andrew Bones – drums, percussion, vibrophonette
Carly Meyers – trombone
Brad Walker – tenor saxophone
Dan Oestreicher – baritone & bass saxophone
Olivia McGraw – violin
Combsy, the self-titled solo project release from guitarist Chris Combs, is out now on Horton Records.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.