Upper West Side Story
Following clever takes on contemporary pop tunes (2001’s Stand), Thelonious Monk (2009’s Plays for Monk) and Stevie Wonder (2011’s Wonderful! by the Deep Blue Organ Trio), Bobby Broom’s tenth outing as a leader is his first collection of all originals. Named for the Manhattan neighborhood where he grew up (he’s been a Chicago resident since 1984), Upper West Side Story finds the respected veteran guitarist paying homage to the Holy Trinity of modern jazz guitar (Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Pat Martino) while carving out his own unique space, in the company of his longstanding rhythm tandem of bass anchor Dennis Carroll and the briskly swinging, remarkably conversational drummer Kobie Watkins.
On the opener, “D’s Blues,” Broom develops a simple three-chord motif very deliberately, slowly building against the swinging groove until he’s taking great liberties with the harmony and blowing over the bar line with impunity. The melodic title track showcases Watkins’ creative fills, while the restful “After Words” features the trio playing lightly in waltz time as Broom demonstrates his considerable chord-melody skills. “Minor Major Mishap” (with Makaya McCraven replacing Watkins on drums) is a shape-shifting rhythmic puzzle that has the guitarist bubbling over the top in dissonant, James “Blood” Ulmer fashion. And for sheer burn, it’s hard to top “Fambrocious,” Broom’s sizzling uptempo ode to the late bassist Charles Fambrough that finds the trio exploring freely on a surging pulse. For a change of pace from that adrenaline rush, there’s the lyrical, Brazilian-flavored “Father,” which Broom previously recorded for his 1995 Criss Cross album, No Hype Blues.
The adventurous “Call Me a Cab” is a daring extrapolation on a repeating folkish motif that has Broom and his crew striding into Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic territory. The gorgeous closer, “When the Falling Leaves…,” is the kind of subdued chord-melody ballad that Broom’s mentor, Kenny Burrell, excels at. Underscored by Watkins’ graceful, highly interactive brushwork and Carroll’s sparse basslines, it’s a lyrical highpoint of Broom’s most fully realized outing to date.