When you go to hear pianist Michael Weiss, don't expect him to sound strikingly different from a raft of other pianists--at least, not at first. Weiss has a strong, clean technique that serves his mastery of bebop phrasing and dynamics, and a complete command of the idiom's conventions and idiosyncrasies (including the ability to offer a wide variety of humorous or telling quotations from other songs). But then so do dozens of his peers, not to mention all those twentysomething keyboardists shooting for the big time. Pay attention, though, and by the third or fourth song, you'll start to hear the separate, subtle, and sometimes spectacular virtues of Weiss's playing. Example: A few weeks back, while performing in town as part of Johnny Griffin's regular quartet, Weiss's solo on the ballad "Body and Soul" started with a quotation from another romantic ballad, then continued with another, and another, until they ceased to have any individual effect; instead, this one languorous chorus became an intoxicating cloud of disembodied melodies hanging over the landscape of "Body and Soul." (It also managed to serve as an unverbalized treatise on the practice of allusion, as well as a tribute to the musical manifestation of romantic love.) You'll find plenty of pianists who can match notes with Weiss (a finalist in the Thelonious Monk Institute's piano competition), but it takes an especially deep knowledge, let alone musical wisdom, to pull off the little trick I've just described. This weekend he leads a quartet featuring the Chicago drummer George Fludas--whose praises Weiss has been singing out in New York--and the ex-Chicago saxist Eric Alexander (another Monk Institute finalist), whose meaty tone and unhurried phrasing inevitably recall the classic tenor style of Dexter Gordon. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 878-5552.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Eric Futran.