Considering that its first-cousin, jazz, is predominantly an instrumental form, it’s surprising that there are so few instrumental blues albums. In terms of guitar, of course, Freddie King excelled most successfully, but that was more than a half-century ago. In recent years, Ronnie Earl has been the main torchbearer.
Big Apple Blues is a quintet based, obviously, in New York City, featuring guitarist Zach Zunis. The 55-year-old from Dayton, Ohio, has ricocheted coast to coast, gigging and recording with vocalist Janiva Magness, harpists William Clarke (and co-guitarist Rick Holmstrom) and Billy Boy Arnold, among others.
His long list of influences includes Earl, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Guitar Slim, Anson Funderburgh, Peter Green, Duke Robillard, the Vaughan brothers, and Carlos Santana, who figures most prominently on “I-278 Grind” and “Lost In Thoughts.” With plenty of wah-wah, sustain, and sweeping bends, “Morning Jive” owes a debt to Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“Remembering Eni,” a minor-key slow blues with a descending bass line à la “Loan Me A Dime,” features powerful solos by Jim Alfredson on B-3, harpist Anthony Kane, recalling Paul Butterfield’s tone, and Zunis, who might want to add Duane Allman to his list of influences.
The trick to a successful blues instrumental album is mixing different tempos and grooves, steering clear of “just another shuffle” (or slow blues or “Tramp” groove). And while there may not be a “Hide Away” or “Honky Tonk” here, Big Apple has put together a set of originals listenable enough for you to not miss the singer.