Setting tempos, coloring the ensemble sound, influencing and at times controlling the rhythmic design of everyone else’s solos: in jazz, the drummer plays the most important role (after the leader) on stage. Certainly Jeff Stitely gets enough of all that in the several bands he regularly anchors. But with this quartet–in which he shapes the music with such authority that it sounds newly minted–Stitely makes you understand why the drummer might go one step further and actually be the leader. A complex and extroverted player, his sensibilities allow him to push and prod with invigorating accents and meteoric cascades. So busy a technique proves intrusive in less competent hands, and it’s not always welcomed by bandleaders whose concept of the music is either less energetic or more geocentric. Through it all, he keeps the time exacting but fluid–even elastic. Stitely has chosen an attractive but little-used combination of instruments, relying in the front fine on John McLean’s guitar and Ryan Shultz’s bass trumpet (which resembles the trombone in timbre); McLean is another of the wizardly young fretmen Chicago seems blessed with these days, with a big tone and crisp ideas that match up well with Shultz’s warm facility and individualistic melodies. On Friday night only, the band is joined by saxophonist Ron Dewar, who’s bound to find Stitely’s heady and challenging repertoire much to his liking. Tonight and Saturday, Oz, 2917 N. Sheffield; 975-8100.

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