Over the last two decades or so there hasn’t been a Chicago jazz musician as overlooked as drummer Damon Short. Apart from this item I wrote back in 2001, I’ve been as guilty of it as anyone. Most of us don’t think of drummers as composers and bandleaders, but Short excels at all three disciplines. Yet because he’s older than the Ken Vandermark crew and has always retained a stronger connection to post-bop fundamentals, he’s never really fit neatly within the local aesthetic. It’s a shame for us and for him.
Short’s made a handful of studio recordings under his own name as well as some with fellow travelers like Paul Smoker, Paul Scea, and Fred Hess. His tunes are sturdy vehicles for improvisation, but they also possess a lovely melodic elegance and graceful structuring, and his arrangements have always enhanced the formidable talents of bandmates like Chuck Burdelik, Larry Kohut, Ryan Schultz, Mitch Paglia, and Mark Tuttle, among others. The article I linked to above reported on the formation of Short’s own CD-R label, Depth Perception, which he started to release a backlog of recordings, and while the operation has been sporadic, earlier this year he issued Retrofit, a wonderful collection of live material cut with the players I just mentioned. The music proves he’s become a master of running a strong band, creating original material that brings out the lyric, if somewhat abstract tendencies, of his collaborators.
Over the years Short has maintained ties to certain figures on the LA jazz scene, particularly the reedist Vinny Golia, who in 2002 used his 9 Winds imprint to issue Short’s superb album Go Figure—criminally, the drummer’s last official release. Tomorrow night Short and cohorts Burdelik, Schultz, and bassist Anton Hatwich will serve as the band for LA trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, a wonderful player in the loose orbit of Golia, for a gig at the Velvet Lounge. It’s a good pairing; on his album Queen Dynamo (Origin), Vlatkovich reveals himself as a deeply melodic, thoughtful improviser with a brawny, satisfying tone, a guy who understands a broad range of jazz history without being captive to it.
Ami Yoshida & Christof Kurzmann, Aso (Erstwhile)
Gianluca Petrella, X-Ray (Auand)
Liang Mingyue, Yangguan San Die (Wergo)