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Chicago Soul Jazz Collective: It Takes a Spark to Start a Fire

John Pietaro By

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Chicago Soul Jazz Collective: It Takes a Spark to Start a Fire
Solace. Listening to classic 1960s soul-jazz as an escape from today's stresses united the musicians who founded the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective. Many of us know of that comfort, the one carried by a cursory view of nostalgia. But don't look too close. Tenor saxophonist John Fournier and trumpet player Marques Carroll built a band on this foundation, exploring the canon. Their sophomore effort is an album of urban tinder and smoke signals, recorded on vintage equipment. The final product draws on the soft jazz underbelly, but it's not restricted to the warm, groove-based Blue Note thing.

Opening cut "Detroit Will Rise Again" is an understated work composed by Fournier which recalls late 1970s "crossover," fueled as it is by the Rhodes piano of Amr Fahmy and guitar of Larry Brown Jr. This often reviled genre is alluded to most often in this collection, yet "Down and Out in Buffalo" speaks to that time when "funk" implied something church-inspired, not dance-related. Carroll's trumpet and Fournier's tenor saxophone conjure imagery of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder." Classic stuff. And this continues into the swinging moderato blues of the title cut, heard best by a warm fire on a cold day, preferably while hoisting a well-seasoned coffee. Other than the pervasive Rhodes, these two selections feel like lost Blue Note cuts from that vital period.

Unfortunately, that quality doesn't last. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton, always an asset, guests on "Her Eyes Are Blue and Sometimes Gray," but this particular vehicle may be just too smooth to maintain the blue shading it's built upon. Oh, Payton shines but too much of what occurs around him, alas, is padded in the warm and fuzzy. And dynamic vocalist Raul Midon joins the ensemble for "Where Do You Go When You Dream?" another blue-tinged song, one that benefits from Midon's soulful presence, even as it begged for atmospheric space. Far too many segments of this album fit somewhere between so-called "smooth" jazz and what we once heard on New York's old WRVR. But the Rhodes here doesn't invoke Chick Corea so much as Joe Sample and Bob James.

Sure, nostalgia feels good in these uncertain times, but the mellow often gets into the soul of the Carroll and Fournier, whitewashing that Blue Note reminiscence. Fact is, 1970s crossover and the Blue Note feel have a hard time existing on the same plane. Those early 1960s recordings had political statements about civil rights and equality cut into their titles, and that tradition is carried over into this album, but the subtlety of boiling urgency expressed by Morgan, Horace Silver, Jackie McLean and company remains sorely missed. At a glance, one may assume that It Takes a Spark to Start a Fire calls for uprising, but in the end, it functions as kinder-and-gentler soothsayer rather than necessary fire-starter.

Track Listing

Detroit will rise again; Down and out in Buffalo; It takes a spar to start a fire; Her eyes are blue and sometimes gray; God bless the patient; Where do you go when you dream; Nora calls from the moon

Personnel

Chicago Soul Jazz Collective: band/orchestra; Marques Carroll: trumpet; Amr Fahmy: piano; Andrew Vogt: bass; Larry Brown Jr.: guitar; Keith Brooks II: drums; John Fournier: saxophone, tenor; Nicholas Payton: trumpet; Raul Midon: voice / vocals.

John Fournier: composition

Album information

Title: It Takes a Spark to Start a Fire | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: JMARQ

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