You'd have to dig long and hard to find a recording on which Jimmy Witherspoon sounds better than he does on his current album. "Jimmy Witherspoon Sings the Blues with Panama Francis and the Savoy Sultans." Recorded in Paris in 1980, this session is simple but masterful.

Unlike several alliances Witherspoon has forged in the past with younger, rock-oriented musicians, this one is purely logical and unconcerned with contemporary fashions. The music draws largely on Jimmy Rushing's collaborations with Count Basie, and it fits Witherspoon like a glove.

The liner notes rightly mention how Witherspoon's voice can, on occasion, evoke the sound of Rushing and his Kansas City brethren, Joe Turner and Walter Brown. But, just as often, these performances also display a measure of the control and elegance usually associated with Joe Williams.

As for the Sultans, the nine-piece band consistently reflects Panama Francis' strengths as a drummer: verve and precision. As a unit, they swing these riff-based blues with both power and agility. Individually, they contribute several subtly expressive moments, particularly on "Goin' to Chicago" and "Good Morning Blues." In turn, Witherspoon responds with his classiest and most rewarding album in years. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM

JIMMY WITHERSPOON -- Jimmy Witherspoon Sings the Blues With Panama Francis and the Savoy Sultans (Muse MR 5288). THE SHOW

JIMMY WITHERSPOON, Friday through Sunday at Charlie's Georgetown.