The drummer who composes has always been rather rare in jazz, but in recent years Damon Short has demonstrated that the species is by no means endangered. As a percussionist he usually plays careful, craftsmanlike accompaniments; at his best, though, he engages in truly exciting interplay with his soloists. As a composer he's not exactly eclectic--he's obviously listened selectively to the best post-hard-bop composers. On the other hand, he's hard to pinpoint: often his scores are darkly hued, sometimes they're merrily animated, they frequently stimulate improvisers to distinctive solos and occasionally to structured collective improvisations. His sextet--Jeff Beer on trumpet, Ryan Shultz on bass trumpet (with a burry sound that's part trobone, part flueglhorn), the extroverted Jeff Newell and the more reflective Mark Tuttle on saxophones, and Larry Kohut on bass--explores rewarding territory, from hard bop to outside jazz, with fine confidence. This week's concert is part of Arts Midwest's "Meet the Composer" series, yet it's important to note that Short and company also play the work of other composers--in fact, they're the only Chicago band that plays music by the great Herbie Nichols, which is a further jewel in their crown. Saturday, 8 PM, Southend Musicworks, 1313 S. Wabash; 939-2848.