February 25, 2019. Most young jazz musicians move to New York City to further their jazz careers. Bobby Broom moved away, to Chicago, and has become the patriarch of jazz guitar in the Second City over the last 30-plus years. Soul Fingers is his second album devoted primarily to reimagining the tunes that shaped the pop, funk, and soul of his youth.
Many jazz artists also eschew the concept of applying jazz treatment to pop music, but Broom has made a career bucking that orthodoxy. Broom teams with Kobie Watkins (drums), and Philly native Ben Paterson (Hammond B-3 organ) to produce an eminently listenable new soul-jazz record of which stylistic progenitors like Wes Montgomery and Richard Groove Holmes would surely approve.
Coming together for the first time in 2014 as openers for Steely Dan, this trio, now rebranded as Bobby Broom and The Organi-Sation, hits its stride when the formal structure of each pop tune gives way to Broom’s intuitive and even-handed improvisation. Broom never strays too far outside the chord changes, and he doesn’t need to; the guys seem much more comfortable cultivating mood and groove than earning merit badges from the technical avant-garde.
Paterson’s gospel-tinged organ permeates the cover of Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale;” a slightly slowed-down tempo amplifies the bittersweet, almost elegiac, quality of the original. “I Can’t Help It” is a cover of the Stevie Wonder-written tune from Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, punctuated by an outro capturing what might qualify as Broom’s best solo work on the album… if it weren’t for two separate rip-roaring solos on “The Guitar Man.” It’s here where Paterson and Watkins lay all the way back and let Broom wade out to his improvisational edge.
The most interesting tune on the album, though, is the trio’s take on Bobbi Gentry’s 1967 number-one hit, “Ode to Billie Joe.” Written in an unusual time signature (7/4), it’s this tune that, like dark matter, imperceptibly binds the whole together. Justefan Thomas’ solo on vibes halfway through feels like an unexpected treat on what is, from start to finish, the album’s funkiest groove.