It’s a little hard to believe, but pianist Erwin Helfer–he of the boyish grin, high-propulsion bass patterns, and self-proclaimed devotion to the old Chicago and New Orleans piano greats who were his mentors–is over 50, pushing toward elder-statesman status himself. All that means is that his buoyant love affair with blues and boogie-woogie has slowly become tempered with a knowing worldliness: where he once tore through barn-burners with a take-no-prisoners abandon, he’ll now embellish his driving left-hand phrases with treble ornamentation tinged with a Hoagy Carmichael wistfulness, his raucous enthusiasm laced with fatalistic romanticism. He’s joined by S.P. Leary, the legendary drummer who helped redefine Chicago blues percussion back in the 50s. Leary’s rhythmic elegance is matched only by his reputation for unpredictability, but if his recent appearance at the Chicago Blues Festival is any indication, he’s in full command of his faculties these days. Tonight, Andy’s, 11 E. Hubbard; 642-6805.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/James Fraher, Marc PoKempner.