Blues Bytes


February 2007

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Katherine Davis
Rock This House - Live
The Sirens Records

Katherine Davis

An intimate audience applauds, the band kicks off loosely but groovin’ instrumentally with the old Herbie Hancock pop thing “Watermelon Man.” Bari sax goes low for a solo and guitar twangs. The band warm-up is customary live, but once eying the cover photo of Katherine DavisRock This House - Live (The Sirens Records), one wishes to hear the voice more immediately on record. She quickly introduces the Chicago Boogie Ensemble by track two, then falls in as a perfect foil for this seasoned outfit. In no time she’s got the audience in a call-and-response of the title track written by Jimmy Rogers.

Comfortable medium tempos, balanced instrumentation and obvious years of performing experience all conspire to put an immediate glow on this party. We get there fast, stretch comfortably, and never overshoot the mark. “Sweet Lotus Blossom” is wonderfully placed due to delightful structure, both in chords and rhythm. Patter between numbers is genuine, clean audio is matched with dirty lyrics (there’s no obvious editing). If not all strict blues by structure, in delivery it is. “Once you drop that sugar in my bowl, let’s go fishing,” as she guides the program from a Bessie Smith motif to a shuffle.

Her timbre is sassy, and emotionally well-communicated. She’s Chicago all the way, originally interested in Opera and theater. Instrumentalists are given equal solo space. Pianist Erwin Helfer did the arrangements, upright bassist John Whitfield and tenor saxophonist John Brumbach are two other of Katherine Davis’ regular ensemble. For this disc, recorded in January ‘06 at Chicago’s Old Town School Of Music, three stalwarts were added, two of them second-generation Chicago blues musicians. Baritone saxophonist Willie Henderson once played with Jackie Wilson, and as guitarist Lurrie Bell is the son of harmonica man Cary Bell, Kenny Smith is a drummer as is father Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.

Tempo slows slightly for the vintage “Make Me A Pallet On the Floor,” two-beat is the feel of “You Got To Know How,” the young drummer belying his age, grooving deeper to match the wisdom of the elder players. The band returns for a churchy instrumental backbeat.

The set concludes with “Never Make A Move Too Soon” (sometimes sung as “your” move) featuring collective spontaneity over a funky foundation, and “Romance In the Dark” by Lil Green, also conjuring up shades of Percy Mayfield down in the alley.

The Sirens Records gets our attention. They promote “Legendary Chicago blues, boogie, jazz and gospel piano.” Grade of A.

--- Tom Coulson


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