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Chicago Soul Jazz Collective: On the Way to Be Free: Chicago Soul Jazz Collective Meets Dee Alexander (JMarq)

A review of the sextet's album featuring the vocalist

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Chicago Soul Jazz Collective: On the Way to Be Free: Chicago Soul Jazz Collective Meets Dee Alexander (JMarq)
The cover of On the Way to Be Free: Chicago Soul Jazz Collective Meets Dee Alexander by Chicago Soul Jazz Collective

The medium-boil funk workout “Nothing Good Ever Goes Away” is the concluding track on this album; it could easily serve as the mission statement. That mission is clear from the very beginning: The opener, “Mama Are We There Yet?,” is set to a funkified Sly/Rufus/Crusaders groove that establishes the throwback mood yet is also fully contemporary, thanks to saxophonist/songwriter John Fournier’s lyrics (a vivid blend of topical and existential urgency that characterizes his writing throughout) and the creative panache with which Fournier, vocalist Dee Alexander, and the rest of the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective deliver the goods.

Alexander is among our most fearless and versatile vocal stylists. An obvious point of reference for her here is Randy Crawford, the vocalist featured on the Crusaders’ genre-defining 1979 hit “Street Life,” but she also brings her full armamentarium of textures, shadings, and improvisational fire to the mix, giving fresh dimensions to even the most familiar conceits. Guitarist Larry Brown Jr. spices the fatback-flavored deep soul sound usually associated with Stax’s Steve Cropper with a streetsy bluntness that recalls such pioneering fretboard funksters as Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Jimmy Nolen of the J.B.’s; Fournier’s tenor sax work is likewise straightforward yet thrusting and forceful, imbued with deep timbral and emotional colorations.

Again, Fournier’s gifts as a lyricist should be emphasized. This disc brings back memories of the days when we’d purchase a soul or pop album to be inspired by the accessible yet challenging musicianship we knew we’d find, then open the gatefold and read along, equally inspired by the poetry of the lyrics. Yes, “Nothing Good Ever Goes Away”—and some good things deserve to be brought back to stay.

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

David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.