When it came time for the SFJAZZ Collective to choose a composer to honor in their eighth season, they surprised a lot of people when they went with the one and only Stevie Wonder. While some likely view this decision as a statement that, after covering Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver, the revered jazz composer well had run dry, those with a keen ear and a strong pulse know better. The group was making a statement that Wonder's body of work is up there with the best of them, regardless of stylistic tags, and it would seem that the Deep Blue Organ Trio feels the same way.
For its fourth album?and second on the Origin label?this tight, Chicago-based outfit tackles nine songs written or co-written by Wonder. The focus is on material from the early '70s, when Wonder was dominating the music world, but skips over the usual suspects like "Sir Duke," "Superstition" and "Higher Ground" in favor of other tunes which, while equally popular in some cases, aren't nearly as overplayed.
This trio is a paragon of taste and style, avoiding exhibitionism in favor of a more soulful worldview, and this particular outlook serves the music well at every turn. Organist Chris Foreman carries out the melodic duties more often than not, and he provides uncluttered accompaniment for guitarist Bobby Broom's solos. His own solos are straightforward and, while he can really cook, he's not the type of player to resort to Joey DeFrancesco-style pyrotechnics. Broom, best known for his work with Sonny Rollins, has a clean, full-bodied sound and his solos are blues-laced beauties which epitomize class. He can provide some seriously soulful support when the music calls for it ("You Haven't Done Nothin'"), but he also stands out as the premier soloist in the group ("Jesus Children Of America"). Drummer Greg Rockingham avoids flash in favor of feel, and he sets up each song with the perfect groove. He provides a waltzing tom and hi-hat beat on "Golden Lady," delivers driving swing on "Jesus Children Of America," and slips some grease into the mix on the Rufus-associated "Tell Me Something Good."
These three men have been making music together under the Deep Blue Organ Trio moniker for eleven years and they've developed a deep connection with one another during that time. This well-conceived Steve Wonder tribute should go a long way in getting them the attention they so clearly deserve.