For all the phony boosterism that characterizes discussions of Chicago jazz, you don’t hear much in the local press about clarinetist Chuck Hedges, who does what he does better than anyone else. (That’s anyone, anywhere.) Hedges exemplifies the liquid, breezy, seemingly effortless and casually elegant approach to his instrument that Benny Goodman made famous 60 years ago. But on his new album, Skylark (Delmark), Hedges also reminds us that his indebtedness to Goodman does not extend to slavish devotion. In his music he speaks the language created by Goodman, which became the model for the swing-era clarinet and has spawned countless imitators, but he uses his own imagery, phrasing, even syntax, to find a different poetry. He has a sometimes startling technique, spinning long phrases with the precision of an electric current, and he plays with the disarming assurance of someone who continues to refine the process even when he doesn’t have to. Hedges’s group features Dave Baney on guitar and Duane Thamm on vibes–recalling the sound of the Goodman trios and quartets that starred Lionel Hampton–but no piano, which gives the tight harmonies a surprisingly open sound. The irrefutable rhythm team of bassist John Bany and drummer Charlie Braugham round out the band. A few younger musicians, notably the clarinet rebel Don Byron, have applied a reconstructive approach to the music that inspired Hedges. He hasn’t done this, instead choosing to “merely” play it at a level suggesting that of the originals–and offering his own subtle amendments along the way. Mondays, 5 PM, Andy’s, 11 E. Hubbard; 642-6805. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Monique C. Churchill.