Big James & the Chicago Playboys | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Big James & the Chicago Playboys


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Trombonist Big James Montgomery and his Chicago Playboys can claim direct descent from the group that backed west-side soul-blues singer Little Johnny Christian, and as Otis Rush's band they've proved adept at straight-ahead blues. Their true calling, however, is best summed up by the title of their debut CD, Funkin' Blues (on the homegrown Jamot label). Montgomery and saxist Charles Kimble do the funkin', riding the band's booty-shaking grooves with tight-fitting solos, and guitarist Giles Corey supplies the blues: explosive assaults on up-tempo numbers, searing meditations on ballads. Montgomery's wail is fuller and more supple than the punchy shout funksters seem to prefer, and he can sing with frightening power. But not everything on Funkin' Blues works: the Playboys' version of George Clinton's "Cosmic Slop" lacks the righteous hard edge and gonzo absurdism of the original, and they kick off Sugar Pie DeSanto's version of Christian's "I Wanna Know" at such a breakneck speed that they can't keep up with each other. Montgomery and Kimble also occasionally fall short of a first-rate funk horn section's crisp precision. Sometimes everything comes together, though, like on the exhilarating street funk of "Playboy Party" or the torn-up blues of "Baby I'm Gone," a ballad powered by Montgomery's throat-ripping vocals and a wall-to-wall spitfire solo from Corey--and when that happens, only Tyrone Davis's peerless Platinum Band can outdo Big James and his crew. Tuesday, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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