By: Elliott Simon, New York City Jazz Record

Chris Foreman is a B3 organ player who should be, but is not usually, listed among the instrument’s top players.  Based in Chicago, his funky soulful style is well known there and he is the kind of musician’s musician that Denmark is so good at highlighting.  His long association with drummer Greg Rockingham is displayed on this initial release from the Soul Message Band, Soulful Days.

For this session, guitarist Lee Rothenberg is welcomed into the fold and quite easily accomplishes the difficult task of fitting in with this very established rhythm section.  His juicy lines combine with Greg Ward’s weighty alto saxophone on Rothenberg’s own “Sir Charles”, a paean to Charles Earland, to open the set with funky pride.  Tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield guests on the title cut, which Foreman turns into a guests on the title cut, which Foreman turns into a chillingly delicious send up of Cal Massey’s “These Are Soulful Days”.  Ward’s own “Uncertainty” completes the originals and he, Rothenberg and Foreman superbly articulate their individual melodic explorations.

The remaining six tunes, with the exception of an extended and lovely take on Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart’s “Little Girl Blue”, cover a stunning array of material from distinct jazz greats.  Wayne Shorter’s “Hammer Head” becomes a wide-open joust between Ward and Bradfield and Jimmy Smith’s “J.O.S.” maintains its original groove while Foreman servers up the melody and crescendos with a fresh punch.  Ward soars above Foreman and Rockingham on Grant Green’s “Matador” but Rothenberg slyly uses the tune to develop a sweeter connection to Foreman.  He similarly connects to Ward on Louie Bellson’s “Easy Time” before Bradfield returns to reignite Freddie Hubbard’s “Thermo” to close things out.

Together, Foreman and Rockingham cook up a delectably greasy rhythmical groove that underpins this entire program and this debut from the Soul Message Band is more a realization than an introduction.

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Greg Ward is at National Sawdust May 16th with Linda May Han Oh and at Nublu 151 on May 23rd.

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