Soul Message Band

Soulful Days
Delmark Records DE 5030

An adroit mixture of the old, the new, the borrowed and the Blue(s), on its debut CD the accomplished Soul Message Band (SMB) is in the lineage of Soul-Bop organ-centred bands that flourished from the late 1960s and mid-1970s. Yet with nuanced and canny playing the Chicago quartet stakes out its own particular turf.

Without being ageist, the “old” part of the group is Hammond B3 organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham, who were two-thirds of Deep Blue Organ Trio and have worked with the likes of Hank Crawford, Nat Adderley. SMB’s “new” contingent is guitarist Lee Rothenberg and alto saxophonist Greg Ward, with the now-New York-based Ward replaced for two tracks by tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield. The “borrowed”: part of the equation is the material, that except for one track each by Ward or Rothenberg is made up of Soul-Jazz classics. As for the Blues, that, after all, is the backbone of organ combo music

More subtle than many of his dual keyboard contemporaries, Foreman can ladle on the funk when he wishes, but his usual mode, as he demonstrates on a tasteful ballad like “Little Girl Blue”, is issuing single tone judders, rather than full-out glissandi. The very definition of discretion, Rockingham takes no solos and his easygoing contributions whether shuffle, backbeat or otherwise fluidly push the tunes. Rothenberg is able to compose a self-contained funky head as he does on “Sir Charles” and also move among warm single note picking, harmonic counterpoint with the others and maintain equilibrium with unforced vibrating twangs as he does on “J.O. S” with its echoes of “Bag’s Groove. In other words he has no trouble filling the role pioneered by Funk-Bop six-stringers like Kenny Burrell and Pat Martino. Meanwhile Ward reveals a hitherto unexpected affinity for flutter-tongued emotionalism usually associated with a lineage from Johnny Hodges to Hank Crawford. He melds this concept with Bop sophistication on a track like “Hammer Head”, which also includes Bradfield, and his upwards cry meets Foreman’s high-pitched arpeggios with a yearning smoothness that would be expected from Tab Smith or Pete Brown. Both saxophonists also output sharp bites at points, but these jabs never upset the flowing groove. More notably, when Ward lets loose with double and triple tongued forays and coltish altissimo runs on “Matador” and his own “Uncertainty”, he connects with the guitarist’s fluid single notes on the first, while Foreman’s slithery organ is with him all the way on both. The organist even spins out chorus after chorus of focused swells that mesh perfectly with surging reed cries on “Matador”.

Secure in the time-honored organ group tradition, the Soul Message Band members don’t deviate too much from the expected. But what the band does play puts it onto the front ranks of organ groups, finding new musical gold in a vein that has been profitably mined by multiple bands over the years.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Sir Charles 2. These Are Soulful Days+* 3. Uncertainty 4. Hammer Head* 5. Little Girl Blue 6. Matador 7. Easy Time 8. J.O.S 9. Thermo+*

Personnel: Greg Ward (alto saxophone, except +); Geof Bradfield (tenor saxophone)*; Chris Foreman (Hammond B3 organ); Lee Rothenberg (guitar) and Greg Rockingham (drums)