Chicago keyboardist Bob Long has no fear of commitment, musically speaking: when he enters a relationship, he’s in it for the long haul. In the late 80s he formed a quartet with saxist Brian Gephart that, though performing only sporadically, has maintained its aesthetic and built its repertoire over the course of three self-released CDs. (The latest, Corners, arrived in 2000.) And way back in 1973, Long helped start a brash, fitfully ambitious fusion quartet called Streetdancer, which at one time grew to include Chico Freeman on saxes; nearly 30 years later, when the disc Secrets announced Streetdancer’s reemergence from some extended dormancy, there was Long, smoothly connecting the band’s funky beginnings with a subsequent heightened interest in Eastern European roots. And although he’s spent most of the last 25 years exploring the range of the pianoforte, Long has apparently never lost his love for the electric piano, the machine that powered fusion’s first heyday: on the brand-new trio date Straight Roads (Cellar Records) he abandons the acoustic piano entirely to focus on the Fender Rhodes (and, on several tracks, the Hammond B-3 organ). In the 70s, despite the innovation brought to it by a handful of artists (Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock), the Rhodes fully earned its reputation as a miserable alternative to the real thing. But all these years later, I find its cool, throaty timbre and light attack a welcome change from the ordinary–especially in the hands of someone like Long, who understands the instrument’s strengths and how to work around its expressive limitations. He applies a similar understanding to his own playing: though he’s a solid pianist and knowledgeable improviser, he’s never developed an imitable trademark or distinctive flair, but over the last decade Long has distilled his journeyman’s experience into a relaxed, personable style full of lovely subtleties and smart storytelling. The egoless local rhythm team of bassist Dave Marr and drummer Tim Davis backed him on Straight Roads, and they’ll do it again at this show, the disc’s release party. Friday, July 11, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tanya Tucka.