The Knickerbocker All-Stars – Open Mic At The Knick | Album Review

theknickerbockerallatarscdThe Knickerbocker All-Stars – Open Mic At The Knick

JP Cadillac Records – 2014

13 tracks; 46 minutes

Here is an interesting ‘concept’ album!  Two Westerley, Rhode Island, natives, Bob Christina and John Paul Gauthier, decided to recreate the jam sessions that were once held at the Knickerbocker Café, ultimately leading to the establishment of possibly Westerley’s finest export, Roomful Of Blues.  The core band here is Ricky King Russell on guitar, Bobby Christina on drums and Bob Worthington on bass, with the addition of a horn section which includes Rich Lataille of Roomful on sax, Dennis Cook on bari sax, Bobby ‘Breeze’ Holfelden on trombone and Doc Chanonhouse on trumpet.  Piano is played either by David Maxwell or Al Copley and Nick Adams plays guitar on one cut.

The material is drawn from the great era of big band R n’ B with songs associated with BB King, Freddie King, Lowell Fulson and Bobby Bland amongst others.  So, how to get the authentic vocals to go with this stellar band?  Just ask seems to be the answer, as the following all appear: Sugar Ray Norcia, Curtis Salgado (both one-time vocalists with Roomful), Malford Milligan, Johnny Nicholas, Brian Templeton, JP Sheerar, Willy Laws and Mike O’Connell.  Finally another Roomful connection was established by having original drummer (and Bob’s brother) Fran Christina play on three tracks.

Every track here is great so it is hard to pick out just a few favourites but the album starts with a bang with the great Sugar Ray Norcia singing “You Upset Me Baby” brilliantly, the horns absolutely on fire with exciting solos from Ricky on guitar and Rich on alto.  Johnny Nicholas sings superbly on “Jelly Jelly”, a song written by Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine and Malford Milligan (former vocalist with Texan band Storyville) delivers a fine Bobby Bland style vocal on “Turn On Your Lovelight”.

Another song associated with Bobby, “Ain’t That Lovin’ You” brings Curtis Salgado to the microphone in very relaxed mood for a jazzy rendition of the song.  Two songs strongly associated with Freddie King appear late on the CD with Brian Templeton leading from the front on “Tore Down” and Mike O’Connell delivering an equally strong performance on Don Nix’s “Going Down”.  Appropriately both tracks feature some determined soloing from Ricky on guitar, well supported by the horn section and David Maxwell’s piano (David played with Freddie in the 70’s).  Elsewhere Willy Laws sings well on a solid version of “Mother-In-Law Blues” (Gene Barge) and Roy Milton’s “It’s Later Than You Think” romps along with Sugar Ray’s second vocal contribution, twinkling piano and honking sax.

Classic material, great horn arrangements, fine singing – what is there not to like?  Despite there being no original material this CD it is well worth investigating if horn driven, big band blues is your interest and comes highly recommended by this reviewer.

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