What started as a fortuitous booking a couple of years ago is beginning to look like a delightful annual ritual: celebrating the birthday of blues patriarch Sunnyland Slim by pairing his Delta-rooted piano traditionalism with the eclectic flamboyance of Dr. John. It's a perfect if unlikely match: The 84-year-old Sunnyland's wide-fingered chording and sparkling treble cascades support a voice that's still one of the most remarkable in all of blues, despite recent health problems. Dr. John's dexterous variations on classic New Orleans R & B piano styles meld perfectly with his original compositions and sensitive readings of jazz and pop standards. He's recently started to play guitar onstage again as well: he picks with a ferocity that might surprise those who think New Orleans musicians are limited to a more glib, relaxed groove. These two masters embody well over half a century of blues and R & B tradition, and the joy that infuses both the music and the men makes their show as spiritually affirming as it is musically unsurpassable. Tonight and Saturday, B.L.U.E.S. Etcetera, 1124 W. Belmont; 525-8989.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/James Fraher.