When he’s not on the road with the Pat Metheny Group, drummer Paul Wertico “relaxes” at home by leading a bewildering number of different combos. To hear him tell it, each new configuration represents “the band I’ve been really looking for.” But even if you translate the Wertico dialect of boundless enthusiasm, this trio–road tested in a week of European appearances this past winter–may well run away from the pack. The heart of the matter lies in the magical interplay between Wertico and fire-tinged guitarist John Moulder, who also plays in Wertico’s quintet. The two challenge each other on practically every chorus, with the drummer setting up latticed walls of rhythm that the guitarist can’t help himself from climbing; Moulder’s own lyrical, reverberating heights push Wertico even harder, and the energy level in the entire room ratchets up in compliance. (This demonic guitar playing is the work of an ordained minister, which only adds spice to the spectacle: John Moulder–Pastor of the Plectrum?) Bassist Eric Hochberg, a longtime musical intimate of Wertico’s, can certainly get into orbit with his band mates, but his active accompaniment and rhythmic command more often (and more importantly) provide the center of balance for this explosive combination. Wertico has encouraged Moulder’s use of a ring modulator–a sound-enhancement device that seems almost anachronistic in the digital 90s–and has no qualms about borrowing inspiration from the power rock trios of the 60s and 70s, all the while building a sturdy repertoire of original compositions. The trio can also play a mean electric-jazz blues–no small matter, considering the locale of this week’s gig and the likelihood that bluesman Jimmy Johnson, whose band shares the bill, will match his own guitar to Moulder’s on a tune or two. Friday, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 427-0333 or 427-1190. NEIL TESSER

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