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SoulMeme is a contemporary jazz-, R&B-, and pop-influenced ensemble featuring the talents of singer/songwriter Michele Thomas, drummer Darren Scorza, guitarist Neal Alger, keyboardist Matt Nelson and bassist Bob Lovecchio. Working in the Chicago jazz scene from the late nineties, these long time friends and collaborators have performed together on various projects including the most recent release from Michele Thomas called “Messenger” - a collection of Stevie Wonder songs treated with new and imaginative arrangements by Thomas, Scorza and Alger.  Along with Bob Lovecchio and newest member, Matt Nelson - they have all come together to join forces in stirring the jazz pot and continuing the evolution of this most progressive of improvised idioms.  Expect the kind unapologetic and joyous grooves inspired by artists like Jon Batiste & Stay Human, thinly veiled in the jazz-funk of Herbie Hancock and fortified with the soulful lyricism of Bill Withers.  

It’s often been said that the sum is greater than its parts and in the case of rising jazz fusion outfit SoulMeme, that’s certainly the case. A collective formed by a longtime collection of musical friends who’ve become family, sharing their love of music together in the Chicago area for years, they now seek to harness their individual talents together in order to create something even greater. 

The ties that bind SoulMeme together run long and deep, formed over years of performing across the Chicago club scene. 

“Darren Scorza and Neal Alger started out playing together as the house band for a jam session at an old northside dive bar called ‘Big Joe’s 2&6 Pub’,” shares lead vocalist and visionary behind the group, Michele Thomas. “We were all fresh out of college and Darren hosted this jam every Sunday night. A mutual musician friend of ours told me about the session which I then started going out to sing at every week…After coming out to sing for a few months, they invited me to be a member of the house band as their resident vocalist.”

A few years on down the line, bassist Bob Lovecchio would join the troupe, joining the “Big Joe’s” house band, a place that would serve as a true proving ground for this rising cadre of young jazz musicians and helped to truly cement them together as a unit, aiding one another in recording solo projects and growing as artists.

“Big Joe’s was where we cultivated our sound together as a group I think,” shares Thomas. “And it sort of felt like our ‘Cheers’ bar where everyone knew our name and we could be at ease with one another. And through the years we’d continue working lots of corporate gigs and club dates together, often calling on one another for various gigs that we might individually be leading.”

The lone exception to this long history is keyboardist Matt Nelson, who is the core group’s most recent addition. Yet, Nelson has been a quick fit, his musical chops seasoned with plenty of steady gigging and segueing seamlessly into the group’s familial dynamic with ease.

That family dynamic is at its zenith during the band’s live performances, where overt jokes and playful roasting of one another accompany impromptu percussive ensembles that accent the band’s signature sound. That warm and engaging environment is exactly what you might expect from these artists who’ve shared so much together, from the love that grew between Thomas and Scorza which led them to the wedding chapel to the unique bonds they share, with three of the five band members having a twin brother. 

Individually these artists all bring strong resumes to the table. Michele Thomas’ career has led her to bring music across the world, her honeyed vocals earning her comparisons to acts like Ella Fitzgerald and Dianne Reeves while her husband and drummer Darren Scorza boasts a laundry list of gigs behind him, sharing the stage with artists like Bobby Enriquez and Richie Cole while serving as the house drummer for Chicago’s heralded Pump Room with singer Jim Rollins. Matt Nelson has had the opportunity to play alongside Grammy-nominated artist Matthew Santos and Graham Czach while Neal Alger and Bob Lovecchio have explored their inner muses, taking on a variety of genres and playing alongside almost innumerable acts along the way including Blue Note artist Patricia Barber and grammy nominated Angel Melendez & The 911 Mambo Orchestra .

Yet when these individuals come together as SoulMeme, they fuse together into a stunning act, one that takes their music to another level.

“We don’t give jazz hierarchy over other genres of music though it’s at the core of our artistry,” explains Thomas. “We’re expressive and lyrical in any kind of genre which I think makes us especially unique when performing popular music, and makes us especially worldly when performing jazz.”

While the members of SoulMeme share a long history, it feels as though they’re embarking on a whole new journey together, as family, friends, and creative cohorts. And they invite you to journey along with them.

SoulMeme images by Keith Caden-Price