When Muddy Waters sang, “The blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll,” he neglected to mention the idiom’s first-born child–jazz. That family history comes to the fore in the Chicago blues band led by Dave Specter. Jazzmen have almost always returned to the blues, yet few blues bands have borrowed so heavily from the brainy energy of jazz improvisation. Specter manages to incorporate an undeniable jazz sensibility, and he does so without jeopardizing either his roadhouse guitar or his blues credentials: a Chicago native, Specter jammed in west-side clubs in the early 80s, then played one summer with the Legendary Blues Band, organized by Calvin Jones and Willie Smith. And his Bluebird horns–trumpeter Rob Mazurek and tenor saxist John Brumbach–sound as if they just stepped out of a hard-bop record session from the 1950s. (I predict it’ll be a warm day in March before you hear another blues saxophonist quoting “Blue 7,” the 40- year-old bitonal blues line by Sonny Rollins, in one of his solos.) Even the title of their marvelous new Delmark album suggests the jazz connection: Blue- plicity comes ingratiatingly close to the classic Miles Davis title “Boplicity,” and I have to think it’s not accidental. This line-blurring makes frontman Tad Robinson all the more valuable; with his gritty harp work and barrel-chested vocals, he never lets you forget you’ve got a blues band on your hands. Tonight’s gig doubles as a bon voyage as the Bluebirds head off for a monthlong tour of Europe. Friday, 10 PM, Nick’s, 1516 N. Milwaukee; 252-1155.

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