The Mellow Fellows–the brawny, horn-heavy band that backed singer Larry “Big Twist” Nolan for nearly two decades–carried on under that name for a while after Nolan died in 1990, then in ’93 changed their name to the Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings. Unsurprisingly, the six core members of the Kings–and a handful of frequent guests, including Chicago sax legend Gene “Daddy G” Barge–play a free-swinging soul blues very similar to the Mellow Fellows’ specialty, augmented in the past few years by increasingly aggressive funk rhythms and sophisticated, bebop-tinged melodies. On their most recent release, an eponymously titled 1999 outing for Blind Pig, guitarist David Mick lays down fatback soul chords and vocalist Ernie Peniston roars out juke-party anthems, his coarse shout tempered with a quaver here and a leavening of timbre there, hinting at vulnerability; the redoubtable Barge, who helped arrange the horn charts and produced the record, sings on a couple tunes and adds a few sax solos of his own. His vocals on “Love Is a Five Letter Word,” though less weighty and cleaner in intonation than Peniston’s, still have a driving rhythmic impetus, and his rollicking sax solo shows off his trademark balance of yakety-yak impishness and sweet-toned hipster cool. The instrumental “Mo Too-Do-Loo”–penned by the full-time members of the horn section, tenor saxophonist Terry Ogolini and trumpeter Don Tenuto–kicks off with a lively bop riff, then eases into a Horace Silver-like soul-jazz groove gussied up by guest pianist Michael Logan’s churchy chords; Tenuto’s solo combines muscular swing with a full yet gentle timbre, and Ogolini’s supple, lustrous tenor line weaves confidently through the harmonic center of the arrangement. For the Kings it all comes down to whooping it up, and a funkified version of “Hide & Seek”–by guitarist Cash McCall, another of the band’s regular onstage guests–is a prime example. The horns punch with sinewy grace, Mick’s soul-blues guitar break snaps like a whip, Ogolini’s tenor solo twists irrepressibly upward, and out in front Peniston, singing playfully about a man trying to weasel out of the trouble he’s gotten into with his woman, sounds like the Lord of Misrule himself. Friday, May 18, 9 PM, B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted; 773-528-1012.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.