By now Ed Wilkerson has taken his place in the long line of great Chicago tenor players, including some he listened to closely on the way up: Von Freeman, Fred Anderson, Ari Brown. Like Freeman or Eddie Harris, he favors a gruff, back-of-the-throat growl–welcome relief from the shellacked-reed shrillness too many tenor players picked up from Saturday Night Live. Also like Freeman, he can stretch a note like Silly Putty or turn it into a question, teasing the pitch. Like Brown or Gene Ammons, he can construct a thoughtful solo or wail like an R & B honker. And like Anderson, he can pace himself to run long without running out of fuel. But Wilkerson has plenty of his own striking stuff, including his careful attention to dynamics: he mixes whispers and shouts in a single line, ascends to feathery high notes, and sometimes drops to a quiet subtone, a good departure point for a slowly unfolding solo. Wilkerson’s heard most often in his band 8 Bold Souls, where he’s but one able soloist, and their shows can leave the saxophonist’s fans craving more. But for these improvised duets with drummer Michael Zerang—the pair’s first collaboration, after years of talking about one—he’ll be way out front. Now that Zerang has his own performance space, the tiny Candlestick Maker, he’s invited a few other south-side and AACM musicians in for a duo or trio, including Mwata Bowden, Ernest Dawkins, and David Boykin. Duos are a Zerang staple; he knows how to hang back and let a partner take the wheel, and when to stoke the furnace or force a change of course. He’s also one of the rare collectors of odd-size and -sounding drums and cymbals who knows what to do with them all. His fast, clattery and metallic style is ear tickling and individual (no Paul Lovens wannabe he), and gives other players a firm but not overbearing push. For his turn as pushee Wilkerson will also bring his clarinet and alto clarinet, an ax that lends itself to eerie vocal inflections. Saturday, February 23, 9 PM, Candlestick Maker, 4432 N. Kedzie; 773-463-0158.

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