We sometimes forget how many world-class jazz musicians live-- and work -- in our midst.
Consider Bobby Broom, who happens to be the favorite guitarist of tenor saxophone icon Sonny Rollins. Broom has toured globally with Rollins in recent years, bringing his buoyant art to audiences who have applauded it.
But Rollins, 76, tours only at selected times each season, freeing Broom to hold various ongoing engagements across the Chicago area. One of the best takes place every Wednesday night at Pete Miller's, in Evanston, where Broom steps into the spotlight as leader of an exemplary trio.
And though steady chatter from the bar area can be a distraction during softly stated pieces, the chance to hear a guitarist of Broom's stature at such close proximity is worth seizing.
In fact, the music Broom plays in this setting differs significantly from what listeners may expect from him. For while Broom typically sounds more extroverted in tandem with Rollins (who doesn't?) and leans toward soulful gestures in the Deep Blue Organ Trio (which plays weekly at the Green Mill Jazz Club), his eponymous trio functions on far more intimate terms.
The subtlety of this work, in fact, tests the proposition that nearly whispered music can be savored outside a concert hall or some other extraordinarily hushed environment. Even so, those who listen closely will understand why musicians such as Rollins vie for Broom's services.
During a recent Wednesday night set, Broom played music drawn mostly from his new CD, "Song and Dance" (on Origin Records), unreeling one exquisitely wrought performance after another. Sleekly elegant lines, deftly articulated rhythms, impeccably structured solos--these were the central elements of every piece Broom played, from up-tempo romps to gentle ballads.
Broom opened the evening with Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," stating the famous melody in sweeping fashion, yet soon transforming it with intricate details of phrase and ornamentation. Meanwhile, Broom skillfully shaped the performance as a whole, almost imperceptibly building from a softly insinuating opening to a rousing finale.
Jazz musicians long have been drawn to the lovely Charlie Chaplin ballad "Smile," but Broom cleverly recast it in animated swing fashion. The juxtaposition of the brisk pace and Broom's sweet, sighing phrases proved instantly effective.
And though the steak-joint setting might inspire many musicians to play their most mainstream material, Broom on occasion pushed into less obvious territory. The unusual, unpredictable rhythms and phrasings with which he re-invented the bebop standard "Donna Lee" and the ethereal tone and unlikely chords he brought to his own "Waiting and Waiting," a charming waltz, pointed to a musician who plays nothing by rote.
He's joined each week by the versatile bassist Dennis Carroll, who plays a key role in several working Chicago bands, and up-and-coming drummer Kobie Watkins, whose playing becomes more complex and intriguing with each season.
Together, they swing joyously.
Now if Pete Miller's management could ask the bar crowd to pipe down a bit, listeners could catch everything that Broom and friends have to say.