9:42 AM CST, January 25, 2013
Chicago enjoys an embarrassment of riches when it comes to jazz guitarists, and one of the most distinctive of them brought home the point Thursday evening at the Jazz Showcase.
Jazz listeners around the world may know Bobby Broom best for the years he spent touring with tenor saxophone giant Sonny Rollins, an engagement that ended in 2010. Broom's nimble lines provided sleek counterpoint to Rollins' torrents of sound, but the guitarist happens to be every bit as appealing as a soloist-bandleader in his own right, even if his generally understated manner doesn't earn him half as much attention as he deserves.
Other Chicago guitarists may be more explosive (John Moulder), more demonstrative (John McLean), more experimental (Jeff Parker), more deeply immersed in the language of bebop (George Freeman). Broom, on the other hand, leans toward single-note lines of considerable economy and elegance and, occasionally, touches of technical bravura.
To Broom, it's all about the music, not the musician, which made for a deeply satisfying, consistently subtle first set.
Perhaps only Broom would launch an engagement with the ethereal, harmonically abstract improvisations of his "Call Me a Cab," from his most recent album, "Upper West Side Story" (which is built entirely on original compositions). The fluid motifs and diffuse textures of the performance asked a lot of listeners, who had to follow quick interchanges among Broom, bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Makaya McCraven, all of whom appear on "Upper West Side Story."
But those willing to put forth the effort were rewarded with bold improvisations in which there was no predicting where a phrase might lead, how a chord progression would develop, whether a dissonance would resolve. More cautious players would have saved a free-flowing exercise such as this for deep into a set, but Broom and friends opened the conversation this way and pressed forward without hesitation.
As if to reach those who might have been perplexed, Broom offered "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," its familiar melodic arc dispatched briskly and without sentimentality. Broom's signature light tone and lithe rhythms suited the spirit of the piece, while Carroll's low-register lines on bass and McCraven's crisply articulated turns of phrase on drums added considerable tension and musical incident to the proceedings.
The old Carpenters hit "Superstar" inspired sensitive balladry from Broom, particularly in his lush, extended chords. And if Broom's "Blues for Modern Man" tested anyone's definition of the genre, it also offered a decidedly contemporary perspective on it. Equally important, the piece showed Broom producing a profusion of notes, with more action packed into every bar than one typically expects from the guitarist. McCraven excelled here, similarly crowding his solos with content.
Many jazz musicians love transforming Beatles tunes, and Broom did an effective job of it in "Can't Buy Me Love." Here he combined rhythm-and-blues spirit with jazz improvisational techniques, in some moments preserving the shape of the famous melody, in others thoroughly remaking it.
A small but attentive opening-night audience applauded the stylistic shifts Broom offered from one piece to another, suggesting that Broom's admirers are as savvy and open-minded as he clearly gives them credit for being.
Bobby Broom Trio
When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.
Admission: $15-$20; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com
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