By: Richard Kamins, Step Tempest
Some readers may remember that organist Chris Foremanand drummer Greg Rockingham were two-thirds of Deep Blue Trio – along with guitarist Bobby Broom, the Chicago-based ensemble recorded four albums, two on Delmark and two on Origin Records, from 2004 until 2011. Though the Trio in various iterations had been playing since 1992, they waited to record after a decade+ of gigs in the Midwest and beyond. After the trio split, Foreman and Rockingham formed Soul Message Band with guitarist Lee Rothenberg and alto saxophonist Greg Ward.
“Soulful Days” marks the organist and drummer’s return to Delmark Records as leaders. SMB’s debut recording takes its name from Cal Massey’s “These Are Soulful Days” – recorded in 1961 on the trumpeter-composer’s one and only album as a leader, “Blues to Coltrane” but not released by Candid Records until 1987 (15 years after Massey’s passing), this updated version slows the piece down to a bluesy shuffle featuring guest tenor saxophonist Geoff Bradfield (he’s on three tracks), Rothenberg, and Foreman stepping out over the groove. And, it’s quite soulful. Ward contributes one of the two original pieces, the sprightly “Uncertainty“. Not at all like it’s title, the piece dances forward on Rockingham’s active (but not intrusive) drums and Foreman’s delightful bass lines. The guitarist composed “Sir Charles“, the tune that opens the album; it’s a tribute to both NBA star Charles Barkley and the great organist Charles Earland. The shuffle beat and easy interactions, delightful solos and the lack of ego, sets the tone for the album. The band is telling the listener these “Soulful Days” are made for swinging, relaxing, and getting into the groove.
Every song is worth spending time with but here are two particular high spots. Ward’s singing alto and Foreman’s gospel-infused organ lines open up the sweet Rodgers & Hart ballad “Little Girl Blue.”
There are bluesy solos from Rothenberg, Foreman (it’s the longest and most exciting one), and Ward (who plays such lilting phrases). The quartet absolutely soars on Louis Bellson’s “Easy Time” –it’s another shuffle but, thanks to the interactions and fine solos from the guitarist, alto saxophonist, and organist plus the drummer’s power rising from below, you will want to dance.
“These Soulful Days” lives up to its name. This music will wash away your troubles and sounds so good as it cleaned the soul! Dance along with Soul Message Band as they put their spin on the organ-led band that has been a staple of soul-jazz for many, many decades.