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Capturing refractions

Chris Combs’s debut album is heady mix

Chris Combs

Greg Bollinger

“I know how I feel when I hear music that has someone’s real core being in it,” Chris Combs said. “There’s heart in it and there’s booty in it and there’s mind in it. If those three things are moving together in the same direction you’re going the right way.”

For more than a decade, Combs, the respected Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey guitarist, has anchored groups in genres ranging from jazz to hip-hop to country. Finally, he’s releasing his first solo album, Combsy, October 13 on Horton Records.

“I think the songs all come from different spots within myself,” he said. “There’s not like a theme running or any coherent linear thing happening.  It’s all pretty personal. There’s kind of a strange safety with instrumental music. Though I feel like it’s the most intimate shit I’ve done.There’s some Gogo Plumbay moments. There’s some Jacob Fred moments. There’s some Booomclap moments. I’ve had my identity kind of split among these different things for a while. So, this was the first thing I feel like captures those refractions.”

Last October, Combs travelled with drummer Andrew Bones and bassist Aaron Boehler to track everything to tape at The Fellowship Hall in Little Rock. Then, he went to New Orleans and did it again with three of his favorite horn players.

“Carly Meyers on trombone who plays with Roar, Dan Oestreicher on bass and baritone sax, and then Brad Walker who played sax on tour with Sturgill Simpson,” Combs said. “We brought all that back and finished it at my home studio adding Olivia McGraw on violin.”

In the opening tracks “Versus” and “Cosmic Trigger”  Combs’s gift for melodic hooks is obvious. Bright saxophone is reminiscent of Charlie Parker or Ornette Coleman and plays well against the trombone and bass. There are traces of J. Dilla all over this record, too, from Bones’s snare drum to the spacy layers of tape sound hissing at the edges of the tracks. Combs’s production is full of texture, tumult, and even long languid spaces. Lap steel rings over the analog crackle of horns and strings. His blonde Jazzmaster guitar becomes an object with moods. Combsy is hard to fit neatly into a single musical space.

“To people in the rock world, it’s jazz music,” Combs said. “And to people in the jazz world, it’s rock music. My mom’s side of the family is all from New Orleans. Her dad’s vinyl collection was like Miles Smiles and old Louis Armstrong and Pete Fontaine. Then my dad’s side of the family were like Hillbillies from Missouri. They were into this weird country gospel music. Those are the things that kind of made me.”

Combsy album release
with Lauren Barth and the Brian Haas Love Amalgam, feat. Annie Ellicott and Mark Southerland
Oct. 13, 9 p.m. | Fassler Hall

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