Bobby Broom is a name synonymous with visionary modern jazz music. Originally from New York City?s Upper West Side, the guitarist left his roots in 1984 for a different, Chicago vibe without missing the scene. He kept up with Sonny Rollins on tour, hooked up with Kenny Burrell & the Jazz Guitar Band, Dr. John, and Miles Davis, and became the face of modern guitar jazz.
?Every modern jazz guitarist in Chicago is indebted to Bobby Broom. He opened up the doors of perception for us all?he is a master jazz stylist and a musical visionary,? according to Jeff Parker (Tortoise). Every guitarist within hearing distance has studied Broom?s technique and feel online in music videos. They?ve beat a path to his live gigs, with his guitar trio and his Stevie Wonder cover band Deep Blue Organ Trio ? a favorite opening act of Steely Dan?s. And they?ve tried to learn much from him.
After forming his trio in 1991, Broom, bassist Dennis Carroll, and drummer Kobie Watkins began making the rounds, becoming regulars at Pete Miller?s restaurant/club in Evanston. They?ve also just made a subtle but undeniably grooving record, ?Upper West Side Story,? together, featuring all original compositions by the man known for doing his own style of covers and standards. After 30-some-odd years in this business, it?s about time.
?I purposely waited to make a record of all originals,? Broom said. ?I feel that can be sort of a run-of-the-mill thing to do ? that everyone is doing it. 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.?
Released on Origin Records May 15, 2012, ?Upper West Side Story? is Broom?s gift to his formative years in New York City (the CD cover, on 95th St. and West End Ave., isn?t far from where he grew up) going to the High School of Music and Art, making his first appearance at Carnegie Hall when he was 16 with Sonny Rollins, and putting out his first record, ?Clean Sweep,? at 21, for GRP. ?My earliest memories are of Harlem, NYC in the 1960s, but I spent most of my childhood on the Upper West Side,? Broom explained in his liner notes. ?And though I?ve now been a Chicagoan for more years than a New Yorker, the UWS will always have my heart and it?s where I will always position my sightlines. This music is my ode to where I?m from.?
Together, Broom, Carroll, and Watkins play as if they?ve been together all their lives. They practically have. Besides all those regular gigs, the Bobby Broom Trio?s worked together on five of his albums so far. There?s a reason for this: Bobby Broom. Both Carroll and Watkins believe in their bandleader and mentor tremendously.
?In my 20 years of playing with Bobby,? enthused bassist Carroll, ?I've always felt that his style of playing melds the feelings of all-American blues with an urban hip soulfulness that really speaks to the progression of jazz.?
Drummer Watkins goes one better. ?B is one of the great guitarists and musicians of this generation. Playing with him and this trio has meant so much for my development and prepared me to have intelligent musical conversations.?
Another Broom protégé on three of the record?s tracks is up-and-coming drummer Makaya McCraven, who said, ?You always have to dig deeper. His depth in vocabulary allows the music to go anywhere with ease.?
The hallmark of any great artist is making it look easy. Throughout Bobby Broom?s ?Upper West Side Story,? that ease of play ? it?s called feel ? is evident, whether he?s casually tripping over ?Lazy Sundays,? conjuring up the hazy afternoons of his 1960s-?70s childhood, or leisurely building an objective, but bemused, frenzy in ?Call Me A Cab.?
The Bobby Broom Trio made ?D?s Blues? famous in gigs and that live video recording. Holding down what seems to be a free and easy blues riff, Broom then does something spectacular. He lets it all go to his bassist Carroll and drummer Watkins, sharing the spotlight equally as they bounce from one lyrical arc to another, never disturbing the flow. As Broom masterfully summons all the blues and jazz at his disposal, in an airy, swirling mass, Carroll takes the pulse of a bridge of that spacious melody, and runs out the back door with it. His refrain charges out at the 4:32 mark, a disquieting dissonance in our heads, rapping some universal touchstone. Mellow, sure. Not elementary.
In the title track, Broom wraps all of his warm childhood memories in the flickering fret board of his beloved guitar, trapping memories as you would fireflies in Central Park. He carves and carves these light tapestries as they float higher away, releasing all this tonic volume. Falling at 2:18, his flickering cadences roll a distant thunder, as if blues and jazz took a tumble off a cliff, one inextricably caught in the other.
?Minor Major Mishap? is the trio?s fun play with vertical and horizontal measures, stop-and-go pacing, an up and down game of catch-up. Broom?s melody sneaks out in pockets underneath elaborate knots of such gamesmanship, as drummer Makaya McCraven quickly learns to roll with those punches as if he?s in another world on another track. Somewhere, the two disparate-seeming chord changes meet at alternate points. Pay attention to 4:06, when Broom recaps in quite the hypnotic manner.
?Frambroscious (for Fambrough)? is another song that allows the entire trio to have their say. Carroll walks his bass with attitude, Watkins forever doing the intro slide, and Broom, their hero, strokes all over the place hinting at blues, leveling the jazz. Well into 1:55, Broom and Carroll strut together, lick for lick, then intersperses didactic luxuries.
?Father? (updated from Broom?s 1996 Criss Cross album, ?No Hype Blues?) could easily find a home in a moving drama, raise the curtain, draw the credits, cue this ponderous ode of a child to the man who helped shape him. With the innocent perspective of a child-turned-father himself, and a breeze of Brazilian sway, Broom?s guitar licks round every corner, soft at the edges, a warm, succulent melody playing into forever. If this song brims over with feel, it?s because ?Father? remains a deeply personal narrative. He moved his parents from Florida to Chicago and became a father to a son himself in around the same time frame. ?I go into his room in the morning and it?s all right there.?
?Upper West Side Story? only hints at the creative genius yet to come from the mind and the hands of a master modern jazz guitarist and the musicians he helped mentor. It is all right there, waiting for a sequel.