It’s hardly a secret that Chris Foreman has long been Chicago’s best jazz organist. But the 57-year-old Hammond B3 master, blind since birth, has only now released his first recording under his own name. He’s made a handful of killer records as a key member of the Deep Blue Organ Trio (with guitarist Bobby Broom and drummer Greg Rockingham); he’s played behind singer Kimberly Gordon, as well as Henry Johnson and Dave Specter; he’s a fixture at the Green Mill, playing solo organ sets every Friday between 5 and 8 PM; he works in the Joel Paterson Trio each Sunday evening from 11 PM to 2 AM; and he still plays every Sunday at Saint James AME Church on 93rd Street, where he’s been a member of the congregation for almost four decades.
Foreman is not an experimenter. The music on the rousing Now is the Time (The Sirens) is deeply rooted in traditional sources—the blues and gospel—and each of the eight tunes are taken from a standard repertoire, whether it’s the Charlie Parker title track or “Cotton Boy Blues,” one of two tunes written by his biggest organ influence, Jimmy McGriff. On a few pieces Foreman borrows a tactic used by McGriff, swiveling between organ and an acoustic piano. He deploys that trick on a version of the Neil Hefti-penned “Lil’ Darlin'”—a ballad made famous by Count Basie—one of four cuts featuring the guitar accompaniment of Andy Brown (alto saxophonist Diane Ellis plays on a version of Hank Crawford’s “The Peeper,” but otherwise Foreman plays solo), moving easily between churchy vibrato on organ and elegant lyricism on piano. The set is handily propelled by Foreman’s deft use of the instrument’s bass pedals, walking lines that push his gritty stabs and swells and elongated melodies toward body-swaying euphoria, and he’s neither afraid to unleash the keyboard’s fatback greasy side nor its sleek, glittery one.
Below you can hear his take on “Lonely Avenue,” the Doc Pomus standard made famous by Ray Charles. There isn’t an album release show on the books as of yet, but considering that Foreman performs in this format every Friday maybe it’s time to drop in for one of those free weekend kickoff sets sooner than later.
Hank Mobley, Dippin’ (Blue Note)
Decibel, Still and Moving Lines: Decibel Perform Compositions by Alvin Lucier (Pogus)
Hal McKusick, East Coast Jazz Series No. 8 (Bethlehem, Japan)
Gregory Tardy, Standards & More (Steeplechase)
Various artists, Sedayeh Del: Funk, Psychedelia, and Pop From the Iranian Pre-Revolution Generation (Pharaway)