The Chicago Soul Jazz Collective refreshes the sounds of the city’s postbop era
Since 2018, the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective has made waves in town by resurrecting the stylish grooves of the postbop era, which began in the late 1950s—nationally, the sound was shaped by the likes of the Jazz Crusaders, Cannonball Adderley, and Jimmy Smith, and in Chicago the Rush Street club scene was at its height. On previous records the sextet has invited collaborators such as New Orleans trumpet master Nicholas Payton and vocalist Raul Midón, but those were baby steps compared to what the group has done for its recent third album, On the Way to Be Free (JMarq)—mighty Chicago jazz vocalist Dee Alexander is the collective’s full-time front woman. Tenor saxophonist John Fournier has written original songs that set Alexander in postbop’s prime era without feeling like historic exercises. “The Man Is Coming Back,” a seductive mood piece, imagines an insurrection (“Get your pitchfork / Out of the barn / Light the torches / Sound the alarm”) that snaps to life at the song’s hard-funk break. These songs have space and light to them, and the title cut showcases the group’s earthy dynamic. “Mama Are We There Yet?” features a gang vocal driving atop a snappy syncopated groove and the elastic soloing of guitarist Larry Brown Jr. The range of these songs—the nighttime neosoul of “Crazy Wrong,” the Latin-tinged groove of “Carry Me,” layered with breezy soloing by Brown and trumpeter Marques Carroll—showcases Alexander’s versatility and strengths. Judging by its title, the instrumental “Behind the Crusaders” is presumably a tribute to the Jazz Crusaders, a multifaceted group that in the 1960s and 1970s erased all sorts of genre boundaries. Sure enough, the song follows in those footsteps—its melodic power and stylish group dynamics are what make the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective a prime portal for listeners who don’t limit their music by category but are driven simply by the groove. Following this appearance at the FitzGerald’s American Music Festival, the group will perform at the Jazz Showcase on August 24.