If anyone ever dared suggest that saxophonist Brad Wheeler relent a bit in his pursuit of new solutions to harmonic puzzles, he clearly paid no attention–and thank goodness. At times, Wheeler comes off like a latter-day Don Byas, pummeling chords into submission with his superior knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. But just as often, you hear the influence of not only John Coltrane but also two of his underplayed contemporaries, Hank Mobley and George Coleman, conveyed with the laserlike intensity of Eric Dolphy. Wheeler left Chicago for Paris some years ago, and the change of scene had a distinct effect. His playing became less nervous and more emotionally expansive; he also began composing for large ensembles, and the discipline this required now marks his soloing. Once in a while, his solos can get too analytical, burrowing so deep into a phrase that the larger shape seems to fade away; but for the most part they remain brutally forceful: with a good head of steam, careening into one more chorus than you expected, he turns into a jaguar going in for the kill. Wheeler’s occasional visits home–which have increased in frequency over the last few years–have allowed us to appreciate his growth and power, and with the more recent departure of Ed Petersen, they remind us that the chorus of Chicago saxophony currently lacks this particular range and color. Wheeler will front a quartet comprising the trio led by pianist Laurence Hobgood. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.