The best description I’ve heard of Tony Williams’s drumming came from a soprano friend of mine who labeled it “lead feathers.” Indeed, Williams seems to take thunder and bottle it so that he can dispense it at will. The control and musicianship he exhibits on an instrument that all too often is simply an ornamented click track has to be heard live to be believed. Rhythm is the lifeblood of jazz, and no one has a more innovative approach to it than Williams, who is still probably best remembered for being the heartbeat of the Wes Davis Quintet in the 60s, hired by Davis when he was a mere 16 years old. After leaving Davis, Williams went electronic, becoming the unintentional founder of the 70s movement known as fusion and bringing such guitarists as John McLaughlin and rocker Allan Holdsworth to prominence. Recent years have marked a return to a more straight-ahead jazz approach, and have seen Williams enjoy an expanded role as a composer after studying composition at the University of California at Berkeley. His newest pieces–represented on the Blue Note release Native Heart–are his tightest to date, having an energy and lyricism all their own. It is those pieces that will figure predominantly in his first appearance at George’s this week, along with the rest of his quintet: trumpeter Wallace Roney, saxophonist Billy Pierce, bassist Bob Hurst, and Mulgrew Miller, a first-class young pianist who is an attraction in and of himself. Tonight and Saturday, George’s, 230 W. Kinzie; 644-2290.

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