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Were he ten years younger, pianist Michael Weiss might well have snared one of those early-90s major-label contracts that went to such pianists as Cyrus Chestnut, Benny Green, and Stephen Scott–pianists who, like Weiss, rely on the mainstream jazz of the 50s and 60s as their prime inspiration. Of course, a younger Weiss might not play with the measured absorption that marks his music today. He approaches bebop as did Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, and Hank Jones, the Detroit pianists who achieved fame in the 50s: rather than reveling in the idiom’s urgency, he steps back to make greater use of the colors and reflect upon the poetry lurking within bop’s distinctive language. And like his fellow native Texan Red Garland (another pianist of the 50s), Weiss knows how to let a melody line loaf–even when his right hand starts barreling through a typically well-constructed phrase or chorus, the riffs lay back a bit from the beat. Weiss hits Chicago each year at this time, playing in the quartet led by the age-defying tenor great Johnny Griffin–who returns to his point of origin each year to celebrate his birthday, April 24. But this time, Weiss arrives with a new album under his belt, his first in a dozen years. You might expect him to break away from the format of Griffin’s band when leading his own, but in fact on Power Station (DIW), he leads a quartet with tenor. What’s more, some of the tunes–notably a minor blues called “Badlands”–would sound great in Griffin’s hands. Working with former Chicagoans Eric Alexander on tenor and John Webber on bass, Weiss presents six of his own compositions, varying the tempos and opening them up in directions Griffin doesn’t usually go–and thus steps out from Griffin’s shadow all the same. Saturday, 1 PM, Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467. With Griffin Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. A party with food and “surprise guests” follows the Sunday matinee. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.