People, the first collaboration between powerhouse vocalist Hinda Hoffman and Chicago’s near-legendary Soul Message Band is the second installment in this writer’s self-dubbed “year of the organ-led bands.” Yes, 2022 is starting that way. This marks a couple of firsts too. It’s the first time the band has ventured into vocal jazz and the first time Hoffman has recorded with the group. The core of the Soul Message Band is organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham who are approaching four decades of playing together in various projects. Philadelphia-born guitarist Lee Rothenberg has been aboard since 2014, around the same time that versatile alto saxophonist Greg Ward (William Parker, Lupe Fiasco, Tortoise, Makaya McCraven) joined. Hoffman is a late bloomer who first started singing jazz in her forties who first met the band sitting in at a club gig.
Producer Dennis Carroll penned the arrangements for these most familiar and some not so familiar songs of the Great American Songbook, giving them the classic soul-jazz feel, beginning with Cole Porter’s “All of You.” The unit bursts out swinging, clearly led instrumentally by Foreman’s B3 with Ward and Rothenberg providing some enticing lines in their solos as well. The tempo shifts to a slow simmer in Carroll’s sensitive arrangement of “Don’t Worry “Bout Me” and then embraces driving ‘70s era funk and swing in “How Insensitive.” The expansive standout track, Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” a tour de force for Hoffman soaring over Foreman’s church-like organ delivery, the band bringing the tune to a glorious climax.
Ward and Foreman, playing at feverish levels, fuel “Get Out of Town,” a tricky one to sing that Hoffman agilely handles. The title track is one of Carroll’s hybrid arrangements, beginning as a sultry rhumba before morphing into a relaxed, swinging groove with Foreman and Hoffman trading lines excitedly. “Old Devil Moon” has a funk underpinning but quickly becomes a hard swinger with stirring turns from Ward and Rothenberg before Foreman adds his own teeming statement and Hoffman jumps back in to take it home to what would seem to be a rousing climax, only have the tune curiously fade out.
Church-like organ resumes in the tender duet, “Like a Lover” with Foreman caressing notes behind Hoffman’s sensitive vocals. It’s a complete contrast to the unleashed playing in “Old Devil Moon,” and is instead a model of restraint. Rothenberg shines here with his judicious choice of notes as well. Rockingham’s Afro-Cuban beats propel “Angel Eyes” with Rothenberg first authoring some bluesy lines followed by Ward’s soulful take, leading to Foreman’s pulsating solo, in all some of the band’s best playing in this six-minute finale.
Vocalist Hoffman and The Soul Message Band unleash the joyous power of the jazz organ combo, straddling tradition and the contemporary with Carroll’s brilliant arrangements. They once again prove that the jazz organ combo not only lives but is also a renaissance in full bloom in 2022. Check out the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio and stay tuned for a least two organ-led bands to follow in March.