Chicago Soul Jazz Collective Meets Dee Alexander

On The Way To Be Free

For some artists, the studio environment is kryptonite. No matter how strong their artistic vision and capabilities may be, the results of their studio albums sound neutered in comparison to their live performances. That is the case here.

The ensemble admirably channels a lot of the Windy City’s upsouth Black music traditions that’s rooted in Mississippi delta blues and Memphis soul yet gleaming with the northern migration electricity. Amr Fahmy’s greasy work on Rhodes piano, organ and clavinet paired with bassist Andrew Vogt and drummer Keith Brooks’ loose rhythmic pockets provide a comforting bedrock for Larry Brown Jr.’s whiskey-soaked blues guitar licks and improvisational passages and trumpeter Marques Carroll and saxophonist John Fournier’s swamp horn harmonies. Together, they sound like a splendid residence band, playing regularly at your favorite neighborhood bar, that is capable of accommodating any wandering guests.

On this occasion, Dee Alexander is that guest, whose grainy alto and emotive tone imbue the album’s succinct melodies and plaintive lyrics with been-there conviction as the material touches upon some of life’s struggles. But for all its apparent boons, the urgency of the songs never crackles beyond a lo-fi simmer. Perhaps more frustrating is knowing that in concert, the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective would tear the roof off the sucker with this material.

Kryptonite be damned.

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April 2024
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