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

On their first recording, the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective tackled a collection of familiar genre standards, and the results were impressive. For their newest release, however, the group applies its skills to seven original tunes, all from the pen of tenor saxophonist John Fournier.

Among the defining characteristics of the soul jazz subgenre are strong, straightforward melodic lines, an irresistible groove and top-notch ensemble playing. These seven instrumental numbers have all those qualities and more. While something is inevitably lost for the listener when moving away from familiar material, presenting new music that holds its own alongside classics is always to be commended.

And that’s the case here. “Detroit Will Rise Again” has the sound and feel of classic ‘50s and ‘60s soul jazz, smooth and laid-back without ever falling into the dreaded smooth-jazz category. And the blues-based “Down and Out in Buffalo” is very much the kind of cut one would find on a vintage Cannonball Adderley Quintet or Lou Donaldson LP. The title track swings hard like Art Blakey’s work. And the simmering “Her Eyes Are Blue and Sometimes Gray” with guest trumpeter Nicholas Payton hits a hard groove with tour-de-force leads.

It’s not all high-energy material, though. “God Bless the Patient Teacher” is a lovely, contemplative piece. But then it’s back to the soul jazz groove, with the album’s sole vocal cut, the bluesy “Where Do You Go When You Dream?” featuring Raul Midon on voice and powerful lead guitar.

It Takes a Spark to Start a Fire concludes as strongly as it began. “Nora Calls from the Moon” starts subtly, taking its time to establish its signature melodic line. When it does, trumpeter Marques Carroll and sax man Fournier weave in and out of ensemble playing and complementary riffing. Brown takes a tasty, understated solo, and then Amir Fahmy digs deep into a smoky Rhodes bit. Even bassist Andrew Vogt takes a tasty turn. And then in classic soul jazz style, the whole band returns for a restating (or two, or three) of the head.

Anyone who thinks that all the classic soul jazz records were cut decades ago is in for a schooling when they dig Chicago Soul Jazz Colllective’s latest. It’s a worthy addition to the subgenre’s canon, and whets the listener’s appetite for more, please, and soon.