By Jeff Cebulski
Vince Salerno and Gerald McClendon
Grabbing the Blues by the Horns
Pravda Records, 2019
Gerald McClendon – Vocals
Vince Salerno – Tenor and baritone saxophones, harmonica
John Bowes – Tenor and baritone saxophones
Jack Cassidy – Trumpet
Ron Haynes – Trumpet
Thomas Klein – Guitar
Paul Coscino – Piano, organ
Lou Marini – Bass
Mark Fornek – Drums
There’s something to be said about cultural familiarity, the comfort-food vibe of music that reaches back to the “golden oldies,” played by people steeped in the tradition. At least in the Windy City, this growing genre persists. Guitarist Bobby Broom took advantage of the popularity of ’60s soul/R&B hits to fashion his Soul Fingers; Bill Boris borrowed from that tradition as well on his Bright Moments. Blues, especially, provides comfortable shoes for those who walk in its world. The continual success of Buddy Guy’s club and Blue Chicago, among others, attests to the allure of the American art form.
We can now add to the list of retro treats the recent album from two Chicago-bred and -based figures, saxophonist/harmonicat Vince Salerno and singer Gerald McClendon, Grabbing the Blues by the Horn. As a representative of “the tradition,” Grabbing the Blues makes a strong case for making sure the Stax-fired music of the ’60s never leaves the collective memory.
Indeed, Otis Redding gets two shout-outs on this collection, and McClendon delivers strongly, as if he was raised by singing along with Mr. Redding. Here we get “Love Man” and “The Happy Song.” An important factor is what Salerno brings to the table—not only a deeply rendered harp but also horn arrangements that mirror those great discs, played by Salerno along with John Bowes on tenor/baritone and Jack Cassidy or Ron Haynes on trumpet.
Earl King’s “Come On” opens the album, delivered somewhere between King’s original and Jimi Hendrix’s manic version. The effect is pronounced: they’re not playing around; McClendon is dead serious and the band is tight like that.
For maximum energy, one guesses, the album is broken into two parts: R&B with McClendon through number seven, then jazz and blues instrumentals eight through ten. In “Part 1,” following “Come On” is Little Milton’s “Same Old Blues,” played at the same rhythm as the classic. Then comes Otis’ “Love Man,” at the same driving pace, where the Stax influence really shines. A deep cut, Harold Burrage’s “Crying for My Baby,” is performed in a hurry rather than the more dramatic stroll of the original. Salerno’s harmonica has no problem going for the ride.
Salerno pays tribute to a predecessor, Billy Boy Arnold, on “I Wish You Would,” and produces licks that would feel right on any of those ’50s and ’60s recordings. Following “The Happy Song” (with Cropper kudos to guitarist Thomas Klein) is McClendon’s final moments on Little Walter’s “Up the Line.”
“Part 2”’s three offerings center on band performance. Two jazz classics, “Bags’ Groove” and “Stolen Moments” demonstrate the players’ facility in this context. Truer to fashion, and a nice way to bring the album back together, is the closer, “The Wobble,” which is rendered as a straight-out modern blues blaster, with Salerno’s harp out front, blistering the air.
Sometimes one prefers the originals; other times one enjoys being reminded of the deep well that Chicago represents in blues and jazz. This album not only rightfully pays tribute to that well but also represents it with spot-on elan and class. A keeper, this one is.
“Mr. C” is Jeff Cebulski, a jazz enthusiast and regular contributor to Chicago Jazz Magazine. Contact Jeff at email@example.com.