Singer Mzz Reese has become a Chicagoland favorite for her burnished alto voice, expansive blues and soul-blues repertoire, and playfully flirtatious, warm-hearted stage presence. But what really sets her apart is the professionalism of her show. Reese and her band—waggishly christened Reese’s Pieces—charge through a tightly constructed set consisting of well-known standards and too-often-neglected soul and R&B classics, which often culminates in her trademark number, “Cookies,” a swaggering demand for conjugal satisfaction that she obviously wrote in the spirit of one of her heroes, the late Denise LaSalle.
The Pieces are more than up to the task: Guitarist Joe B, whose Shotgun Band is a long-standing west-side club favorite, is best known as a straight-ahead bluesman, but at Reese’s prodding he’s proved himself equally adept with chordal, melodic, and rhythmic ideas borrowed from soul, pop, and funk. Keyboardist John Walls played with guitarist Vance Kelly for decades, in the process developing one of the most expansive repertoires of any blues sideman working in Chicago. In that respect, though, he’s met his match in bassist Avery “Abraham” Brady Jr., who currently holds down the bottom for trombonist Big James Montgomery in the funk-driven Chicago Playboys (and whose resumé includes a stint with Bobby Rush, who headlines the show on Saturday, November 27). Brady’s musical knowledge can seem bottomless: on those rare occasions when a bandleader calls a song he’s never played, his ears are astute enough (and his fingers quick enough) that he can lay down a groove so flawless that you’d think he knew the chart by heart. Drummer James Carter began his musical journey at the old Delta Fish Market at Jackson and Kedzie, playing behind such legendary figures as Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Taylor, and James Cotton. Since then he’s worked with artists as varied as Joanna Connor, Otis Clay, and Artie “Blues Boy” White; he’s got the chops and the versatility to go anywhere Reese (or anyone else) might suggest, while never losing his unerring accuracy and trademark propulsiveness.
Put all these folks on one stage, and the result is the kind of show that remains the sine qua non along what’s left of the old southern “chitlin’ circuit” of clubs and show lounges, but that too seldom makes its way to Chicago anymore: tightly wound, impeccably timed, and buoyed by ace musicianship. Rush, of course, is another master at this kind of thing, which means that the audience at the show he headlines will be treated to a bracing combined dose of contemporary blues and soul-blues music and stagecraft at their finest.
Bobby Rush, Mzz Reese Sat 11/27, 9 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash, $30, 21+
Mzz Reese Sun 12/5, 9 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash, $15, 21+