Odyssey of the mind 

The No. 1 thing that Brian Haas — pianist and founder of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey — wants to get across is gratitude. Of course, a lot of musicians say this. But Brian Haas perhaps has more to be thankful for than your typical grateful artist.

Think about it. Haas started a jazz band in Tulsa when he was 19 years old, and that band still sustains him; he hasn’t held a day job in 14 years, and he tours all over the world.

Success like his isn’t exactly the normal outcome for the kids calling each other “cat” in music schools of colleges across America. So Haas’ gratitude comes off as more sincere than most musicians.

“We’ve just been amazingly lucky,” Haas said. “Whenever I think I’m going to have to quit doing this for a second and go get a day job, something magical will happen to keep me doing it.”

Still, luck only gets you so far. You also need talent, and it helps if that talent is paired with an ability to keep audiences interested. The shape-shifting nature of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey — a tendency to toss aside genre distinctions and play music inspired by everything from 1920s jazz to progressive hip-hop — has ensured that the band’s sound never grows stale and kept its musical talents fine-tuned.

“For better or for worse — without really meaning to or trying to — constant change has become the modus operandi of this band,” Haas said.

The band is proving that with the new material its has been playing live and will release on September 15. After releasing the history-tinged Race Riot Suite in 2011, which hearkened back to the jazz sounds of the 1920s, Haas said the new songs sound nothing like anything they’ve done before.

“The new stuff, man, I’ve never heard anything quite like it. It’s super-influenced by Madlib and J Dilla and a lot of really progressive hip-hop producers,” Haas said.

After performing as a quintet for Race Riot Suite, the band became a trio consisting of Haas on piano, Chris Combs on guitar and Josh Raymer on drums in June of last year.

“We became a trio last year because of the music we wanted to make,” Haas said. “A side benefit is that a trio is more affordable. We decided to shrink it so we could grow it.”

Stripping down to a trio caused the band to rework its sound. The members rearranged old material for their current lineup and will release a vinyl-only recording titled Millions: Live in Denver, to be released on Record Store Day this Saturday.

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Kevin Pickard

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