Chicago can boast some terrific percussionists these days, and you ought to count Damon Short among them--not only for his drumming, but also for his wide-ranging, highly personal skills as a composer. Short's drumming percolates up from the swing beat of his father's record collection, from the chunky street rhythms he absorbed while living in New Orleans, and from the energetic free-jazz pulse vulcanized by Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. The resulting brew allows for absorbing solos, and it places Short smack among the lineage of lean-beat drummers that descends from Ed Blackwell (and of which New York drummer Joey Baron is perhaps the great modern example). But Short will really surprise you with his compositions. Taut and twisting, they display the rhythmic snap you'd expect from a drummer's tunes; they also show a bristly melodic invention and a variety of moods and colors. His best melodies combine warmth and depth for an almost luminous quality; when he skillfully arrays them among a front line of winds and guitar, they almost phosphoresce. Some years ago in this space I called Short an "all-around well-kept secret," and unfortunately that's still the case. But his infrequent public displays are long on variety, virtuosity, and a well-grounded adventurism; miss him at your own risk. He duets with Harry Castle, who plays computer-controlled synthesizers, Sunday at 7:30 at the HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; the Damon Short Quintet plays there Thursday, May 12, at 9:30 PM, and next Sunday, May 15, at 7:30 PM. 235-2334.