[7 December 2004]
Now and again as a music critic you encounter albums that are difficult to write about at any length, never mind with great perspicacity or outpourings of emotion. Sometimes this is because you know little about the genre in question, or don’t particularly like or understand it. You end up either writing an incredibly vague review or admitting your bafflement—at the risk of losing your hard-won gnarled-veteran-reviewer cachet. At other times—and this happens with rather depressing frequency—you’re perfectly at home in the genre, and so are the musicians: so well at home, in fact, that both of you know every chord of the material being proffered. This makes for a mediocre album, a boring listen and a review very hard to save from being an exercise in futile tedium.
Finally, one occasionally encounters albums like Deep Blue Bruise, where everyone involved with the record will agree wholeheartedly that it is well performed by good musicians, that the production lends a helping hand without ever being intrusive or noteworthy, and that the listener will enjoy listening to what is undeniably a quality product. The problem is that the recording lacks anything superlative, innovative or arresting—anything that would warrant the reviewer grasping the reader by the ears and yanking him brusquely into its splendor, causing ecstatic nose bleeds and a burning desire to seek out this violently administered revelation’s sonic source. It’s the solid B student of musical criticism: easy to approve of, but not that interesting.
Chris Foreman, the organist who anchors Deep Blue Organ Trio, was born blind in Chicago in 1957 and began to play music at the age of 7. He has worked with Hank Crawford and Bernard Purdie as well as the Mighty Blue Kings, and he every Sunday he plays piano at the St James AME Church. New York-born Bobby Broom embroiders the many covers here with his fluid, soulful guitar playing, and is the best-known musician of the three, having worked with Sonny Rollins, Kenny Burrell’s Jazz Guitar Band, and Charles Earland, and been lucky (and skilled) enough to play a few gigs with Miles Davis. Finally, drummer Greg Rockingham hails from Illinois and spent nine years with Charles Earland, as well as collaborating with Art Porter and Freddie Cole. As a trio they worked their first steady gig at Chicago’s celebrated Cotton Club, and for the past two years they’ve played the Green Mill every Tuesday.
This album shows why they’ve become an institution there, reaping the rewards of this long experience. The playing is mellow and slinky without losing a fresh, soulful feel. Rather than seeming ponderous or uncertain, Foreman and Broom duet and improvise over Rockingham’s assured drumming in a measured glide not lacking in slow-burning sexiness. They play standards—of a sort. Isaac Hayes’ “Cafe Regio’s”, Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and the Doors’ “Light My Fire” are not your usual jazz repertoire. These are among the tunes effortlessly transformed into something looser without losing their appeal.
On the downside, most of the interpretations peruse the groove enough to end up in the vicinity of seven minutes; hugely exhilarating it ain’t. More than an hour of only three instruments, however well played, palls slightly when the playing style fails to change that much.
You see my problem: I’m never going to convince you that you desperately need a jazz-blues cover of “Light My Fire”, or that the next big thing on the scene is going to be organ trios. This is a pity, because the music on offer here is exactly what you’d want to hear on a classy night out, played with feeling by some fine musicians. I can’t see that many people wanting to listen to it at other times, though, so I’m just going to recommend very strongly that, should you live anywhere in the vicinity of Chicago, you spend some time soaking these guys up live. I can’t inspire you to get a copy of Deep Blue Bruise; I’ve no doubt that a Tuesday night down at the Green Mill would.