Modern Man

Welcome to Soul City.

Using the time-honored organ combo format, Chicago area guitarist Bobby Broom helms a swinging, in-the-pocket session that on first hearing sounds as if it could easily have been released in jazz/funk's 1960s-1970s heyday. But Broom, a respected professional since master saxist Sonny Rollins asked him to join his band at 16 almost 25 years ago, tweaks the expected blues and ballads formula a bit with a mixture of originals, some classic rock, pop and R&B tunes and a little-known hard bop line.

It couldn't be otherwise, since Broom's playing time has been divided between longer or shorter stints in many sorts of music. He was also in the bands of jazz forefathers drummer Art Blakey, guitarist Kenny Burrell and Rollins, accompanied New Orleans "fonkster" Dr. John, Chicago's organ maestro Charles Earland, and even played on Tom Browne's radio hit, "Funkin' For Jamaica".

Nonetheless if this MODERN MAN seems inclined towards soul jazz, it's because his three veteran associates here played on hundreds of memorable sessions during that era and since then. A respected big band and studio cat, baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, nicknamed the turbanator because of his preferred headgear and tough approach to the double keyboard, were featured on the Columbia LPs of guitarist George Benson, an early Broom idol. Smith has had a long association with bluesy alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, while drummer Idris Muhammad, who played on hits by folks ranging from The Impressions and Larry Williams to Grover Washington, recently did a stint with guitarist John Scofield.

Despite all that, the CD is nothing like the funk-by-the-numbers discs put out by newbie, wanna-be jam bands. There's too much experience on tap for that.

Most instructive is how the four transform such rock standards as Burt Bacharach's "I'll Never Fall In Love Again", Steve Wonder's "Superstition" and Eric Clapton's "Layla" into funky jazz. "Superstition," for instance, is given a modern backbeat, with the theme statement sandwiching Broom's single string funk licks, steady rolling drum patterns, a sliding baritone interlude and a steady bass groove from the organ. "Never Fall In Love", a trio performance, is treated like a traditional ballad with the guitarist coolly and slyly elaborating the melody on top of subtle brushwork from Muhammad and leisurely organ chords. Only "Layla" seems to defeat the four, who merely give it a protracted ending and apply a light dusting of funk riffs and on top of the overly familiar hooks.

Individuality extends to "Old Devil Moon" the one traditional standard here. Turned into a boppish swinger, with Cuber's flexible, tenor-register bari doing much of the pushing, it modulates with a smooth, legato solo from Smith then an exchange of eights by all concerned.

Hank Mobley's "Peck A Sec", which follows directly afterwards is practically time machine bebop. Treated like an Olympic sprint, the unison front line work from Broom and Cuber brings to mind the sort of sound saxist Sonny Stitt and guitarist Sal Salvador would create when teamed on burners such as "Cherokee". Both Smith and Muhammad enter for several bars, but neither uses the full power of his instrument to try to overpower the others. In fact, throughout the session the turbaned one never pulls out all the stops on his Hammond, preferring to lightly dance across the keys. The drummer is the same way, breaking up the beat into as many patterns as needed and never pounding out the kind of rhythm that made his rep in the rock and funk world.

Broom's originals are light — but not lightweight — swingers which could be termed intelligent foot tappers. Staying true to their instincts, he players move your body without making you think you've surrendered the rest of your senses to a rhythm machine.

That, in fact, could be a description of the entire album. It's no historical milestone, nor is it a retro recreation. Broom isn't try to make a point, just good, sincere, sociable music. And with so much pretentious shuck making its appearance each day, it's refreshing in its honesty.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Dance for Osiris 2. Ponta Grossa 3. Superstition 4. Mo' 5. I'll Never Fall In Love Again 6. Blues for Modern Man 7. Old Devil Moon 8. A Peck A Sec 9. After Words 10. Layla

Personnel: Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone); Bobby Broom (guitar); Dr. Lonnie Smith (organ); Idris Muhammad (drums)