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by Jim Hynes (Glide Magazine Feb 11, 2022)

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.

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Even if I hadn’t moved to Cleveland in 2019 I am probably a bit too young to have visited the many jazz venues that once thrived in the city’s so-called second downtown on Euclid Avenue. On any Saturday night 60 years ago, the district would have been alive with working-class revelers going out to a club for a few beers, and an unpretentious good time. The soundtrack for this custom often involved a small combo (quaint word, that!) of Hammond B-3 organ, guitar and drums that offered bluesy music with a big beat. Capable of shaking the room at a volume level that could rival a big band’s, the B-3 can also issue bedroom confidences in a whisper that could hush a crowded room. No wonder an archipelago of organ trio bars sprang up from Newark and Philadelphia on the eastern seaboard to the industrial Midwest.

Those places are gone now, but the organ trio hangs on as a vital formation in creative music in the Black American tradition, and one of the best is about to roll into town to rock the Bop Stoptomorrow night.

It’s Chicago’s Soul Message Band, and when I tell you that the good-time vibe they create is barely changed from what you might have heard in a Detroit organ bar in, say, 1964, that’s a feature, not a bug.

Organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham have a history of collaboration with the Deep Blue Organ Trio that stretches back 25 years. They’re a little too young to have played in the circuit’s heyday, but you wouldn’t know it from their conversational rapport and flawless command of the genre’s tried-and trues: swing, the blues and an unapologetic desire to entertain. With guitarist Lee Rothenberg, the SMB has released two recordings that capture the band’s joyous energy. A third, “People,” featuring Chicago vocalist Hinda Hoffman, is slated for release February 11.

The Bop Stop engagement comes almost two years to the day since the band’s last visit to the club, mere weeks before the pandemic lockdown. From the moment Rockingham counted off Grant Green’s “Matador,” the show was as soulful and satisfying as one could hope for. Even when the rod connecting the volume pedal to the Bop Stop’s B-3 came loose, Foreman, Rockingham and Rothenberg kept right on.

Or that’s how it seemed, at least. At one point in the show, Rockingham stopped the music to apologize for the way that a chronic condition was affecting his playing that night. He needn’t have done so; he might have been the only one in the room that could have detected the any difficulty. Still, the affable and unpretentious Rockingham felt an obligation to is audience and made one of the most honest stage announcements you are ever likely to hear. One of the bravest, too.

Musicians like this–people like this–deserve our support, in person or online. In return, you’ll receive an evening of good-time music that will lift you up and, as drummer Art Blakey said, “wash away the dust of daily life.” That’s too good a deal to pass up.

Soul Message Band, Friday, January 28 at 8 p.m. at Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. In-person are $20, available here. The concert will will be livestreamed at Bop Stop’s Facebook page. Viewing the stream is free but donations to the band and the venue are appreciated and can be made here.

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January 29, 2022

Detroit Free Press

One of the country’s finest jazz organ combos comes to the region this weekend when the Soul Message Band plays two shows Saturday at Ann Arbor’s Blue LLama Jazz Club. The evening will function as an album release party for the band’s second album, “Live at Blue LLama,” the debut offering of the club’s new, eponymous record label. Soul Message has become a staple in its native Chicago, where the trio holds court each Sunday night as the house band at the legendary Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. Two celebrated jazz veterans, organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham, combine with swinging guitarist Lee Rothenberg to produce a timeless, blues-inflected sound that evokes the classic record of Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff. Foreman’s expansive style and churchy chords were inspired by those same players and others of their generation and served him in working with musicians such as Hank Crawford, Albert Collins and Bernard Purdie. Rockingham (affectionately referred to as “Rock”) has delivered his splashy, deep-in-the-pocket groove for the likes of Charles Earland, Kenny Burrell, Nat Adderley, Nancy Wilson and Ellis Marsalis.

From 2000 to 2013, Foreman and Rockingham played and recorded with guitarist Bobby Broom as the Deep Blue Organ Trio. Together, they tackled standards, originals and, perhaps their signature, jazz arrangements of R&B tunes like Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” the Ohio Players’ “Sweet Sticky Thing” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love,” as well as an entire album of Stevie Wonder covers, entitled “Wonderful!” The trio proved popular enough to tour as Steely Dan’s opening act for several summers.

Foreman and Rockingham have been working together in some form for 37 years. For 39-year-old guitarist Rothenberg, playing with them is a full circle experience. After moving from Philadelphia to Chicago to study and play, he took lessons from the Deep Blue Organ Trio’s Bobby Broom and eventually proved good enough to sub for him when he had scheduling conflicts.

“When I got to join Greg and Chris for a gig at the Green Mill, that was very life-changing,” he said. “That was something that really helped me grow as a musician, too.”

“Chris and I noticed,” Rockingham said, “that every time Lee played with us, he knew more and more of the material. After one of the Steely Dan tours, I needed to take a break, but after that, we started playing together more.”

“I really missed playing with those guys,” Rothenberg said. “So I reached out to Greg, and here we are now.”

Blue LLama artistic director Dave Sharp said, “I’m looking forward to having them back. They lay down the classic Chicago groove, which lives halfway between jazz and blues. Super soulful. It’s always a fun time when they play.”

Soul Message’s 2019 debut album, “Soulful Days,” included guest saxophonists Greg Ward and Geof Bradfield in a breezy, slow-burning set. Two of those tunes also appear on the new live album, which was recorded Jan. 31, 2020, six weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. Stanley Turrentine’s “Minor Chant” and Slide Hampton’s epic “Frame for the Blues” also appear, though selecting which songs from the performance would be included on the record proved to be difficult.

“I’ve never told anybody this but Lee and Chris,” Rockingham said, “but I have multiple sclerosis. And that’s something that can flare up at any time. It’s never a good time to have relapses, but sometimes you really wish it didn’t happen because of plans you’ve made. I remember that night we played Blue LLama, I wasn’t feeling well. It’s really personal for me, and I got really worried and self-conscious. Somebody might say, ‘I can’t tell, you sound great’ — but I can tell.”

Concerned about not being heard at his best, Rockingham worried again when the band was contacted about releasing selections from that evening on CD. The band worked together to choose the best tracks, and the album is an enjoyable glimpse into what it’s like to see the performers live.

Rockingham used the experience to reshape his view of being a working musician with MS.

“I look at it differently now,” he said. “I’m glad that night happened. I’ve learned a lot since then about how to deal with situations like that. We never expected it to happen, but it’s had a positive effect on my learning how to play with this disease. That’s been important for me.

“It just goes to show that this disease doesn’t have to stop anybody if they don’t want it to. There’s great medication now, and it’s meant a lot.”

Foreman seconded the importance of working through adversity.

“I was born blind,” he said. “Some circumstances may be difficult, like the road trips, but my goal, and our goal, is to always make it work. And that’s what we’re doing.”

The Soul Message Band plays at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Blue LLama Jazz Club, 314 S. Main St., Ann Arbor. $75 per person tickets gain entry to the performance as well as a multi-course dinner by executive chef Louis Goral, whose choices are always surprising and superior in quality. Show-only tickets are available for $25. To reserve, call 734-372-3200 or visit

For info about the band, visit

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