Veteran bassist Buster Williams has a fat but agile pulse and a tone like liquid mahogany, and his unyielding belief in the melodic potential of his accompaniment lines consistently elevates them above mere functionality. If you need an easy reference point, think of Ron Carter, but without the exaggerated attack and fussy detail–indeed, when Carter switched to the smaller piccolo bass to lead his own quartet in the 1970s, he tapped Williams to play double bass behind him (making Williams a bassist’s bassist in more ways than one). In the early 60s, Williams gigged with Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons; in the early 70s he made his mark in Herbie Hancock’s “Mwandishi” band; and in the early 80s he cofounded the still-active group Sphere with pianist Kenny Barron. He’s also become a favorite accompanist to a long list of first-tier bandleaders, including Steve Turre, Larry Coryell, and McCoy Tyner. Each time Williams has played Chicago it’s been an absolute treat, in part because the musicians he hires so clearly relish the chance to play in front of him–which really says something about his reputation, since they’re hardly apprentices themselves. The quartet he’s brought to town this week comprises alto man Steve Wilson, whose smart, astringent lines have recently graced bands led by Chick Corea and Dave Holland; Patrice Rushen, an agile, soulful pianist who rarely tours these days, focusing instead on music-education and mentorship programs in LA; and drummer Lenny White, a former fusioneer who appeared on Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew as a teenager, and in the 90s conceived and produced two “Acoustic Masters” albums to showcase his heroes Charles Lloyd and Bobby Hutcherson. Together they make for a sort of B-list all-star lineup–which could easily blow away lots of bands staffed with better-known players. Friday and Saturday, March 15 and 16, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, March 17, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

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