On his new album "Upper West Side Story" (Origin), guitarist Bobby Broom focuses entirely on his own hard-to-categorize compositions. That?s not a new trick in jazz. But it?s something Broom avoided for decades.
"I purposely waited to make a record of all originals," states Broom, who leads his trio (bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Makaya McCraven) in a CD-release celebration this weekend at the Jazz Showcase. "But, you know, I've been out here 30 years now and people need to know who I am beyond my guitar sound and style. This album reveals more of me."
I can?t say how true that is for others. But as one who?s listened extensively to the Chicago (née New York) guitarist over the years, I think that Broom has long shown us a great deal of his musical persona. I?ve previously called his work ?one of the few truly recognizable styles among modern guitarists,? and I?ll stick with that.
For me, then, these compositions largely reinforce existing impressions about his approach to modern jazz. But they do reveal the inner workings of Broom?s methodology. And they illustrate how ? when left to his own devices, and not tasked with applying his improvisational smarts to the compositions of others ? he designs songs and structure that so ably suit his guitar persona.
That persona bespeaks a restless, high-strung intellect striving for gritty beauty and islands of peace ? even when observation and experience would seem to argue against finding such things. It emerges in Broom?s dark and stringy, slightly smeared tone; in his prickly attack; in his melodies? oblique attachment to the chords giving them life; and in the hard-won nature of his solos, which seem to take little for granted in their search for momentary truths.
Underneath it all, you might detect some of the high-flying, stubbornly resolute questing that marks the music of Sonny Rollins, in whose band Broom toured twice (once in the 80s and once in the oughts) for a total of ten years. (After all, you don?t escape unscathed from such proximity to such genius.)
In their previous and wholly enjoyable recordings over the last dozen years, Broom?s trio ? always starring the redoubtable Carroll on bass, with first Dana Hall and later Kobie Watkins (who plays on two-thirds of "Upper West Side Story") ? has relied on either expanding or reiterating the Great American (Jazz) Songbook. "Plays For Monk" (2009) and "The Way I Play" (2008) offered mostly bop and hard-bop classics of the 40s and 50s; "Song And Dance" (2007) and especially the galvanizing "Stand!" (2001) brought pop tunes of the 60s into the big tent.
As opposed to many of those songs, most of Broom?s compositions sport a purposeful iconoclasm, employing relatively simple lines that don?t fall into any expected formal pattern. For example, the title track of "Upper West Side Story" (named for his childhood Manhattan home) has something in common with the circular, unconventional compositions that dotted Pat Metheny?s mid-70s debut, "Bright Size Life," still a benchmark for guitar trios.
But this commonality characterizes only a couple of the songs on Broom?s disc; more often, they reflect their author?s penchant for liberated rhythms and turn-on-a-dime melodic maneuvers that send his solos on grandly scenic journeys.
A perfect example is ?Minor Major Mishap,? where an almost naively simple three-note vamp serves several purposes. It?s the introduction, yes, but it also constitutes most of the theme itself (except for a brief burst of busy melody that appears near the top and at the end of the track). In addition, this vamp serves as the axis around which most of Broom?s solo revolves.
The solo itself, satisfyingly complex and wonderfully flighty, keeps cycling back to this phrase, like a compass point seeking magnetic north. The result is repetitive but not monotonous, and it makes a highly effective template for unfettered invention -- while still keeping the listener in its rear-view mirror. (This track is the first of three on the disc to feature 28-year-old McCraven on drums, and his crisp strokes and subtle colorations add immeasurable impact to the performance.)
A similar methodology imbues ?Call Me A Cab?; its oddly segmented theme, while occupying the length of a full song, also makes repeated use of a single phrase, although this one is a good deal more elaborate than the one in ?Minor Major Mishap.? Along with the gorgeous, meandering ballad ?Lazy Sundays,? these are the tunes I imagine will remain in a listener?s memory long after hearing them.
?After Words? points to Broom?s ability to do much the same thing with a far more conventional composition. His improvisation is a wide, steady river traversing the harmonic landscape; occasionally it branches into a tributary traveling its own path, sometimes eddying at a stop along the way, before rejoining the main stream. Again, the music can journey afield of the song structure without disappearing into the weeds.
Actually, that strikes me as a pretty good description of Broom?s work in general, and of this ingenious and emotionally captivating album in particular.