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Mike Jones

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MIKE JONES

For sheer technique, Mike Jones is the best jazz pianist you've never heard of. Over the course of three solo albums, he has quietly established himself as the successor to the stupefyingly virtuosic Oscar Peterson, in much the same way Peterson took the baton from the previously peerless Art Tatum in the 1950s. Most pianists would try to duck such comparisons, but Jones relishes them. As a student at the Berklee College of Music in the late 80s, he took the advice of a classmate (Diana Krall, actually) and went to hear Boston's solo-piano master, Dave McKenna, then playing five nights a week at the Copley Plaza. Mesmerized by what he heard, Jones made the bar his regular hangout, analyzing and adapting McKenna's famous walking bass lines with such flair that after a while McKenna, when he needed a drink or wanted to check on his beloved Red Sox, would just turn the piano over to Jones. At the same time, though, Jones continued to study and refine his knowledge of Peterson's spectacular pyrotechnics and dizzying peregrinations, developing a style that matches McKenna's left hand to Peterson's right--a devastating one-two punch that Jones applies to older standards and jazz tunes, adding a few of his own harmonic twists. Jones's most recent disc, Live at Steinway Hall (Chiaroscuro), accurately captures his hell-for-leather attack and his volatile shifts in tempo and meter. But the title is slightly misleading: he didn't record it in front of an audience, and so it lacks the mischievous interactive interpolations that constitute the game within the game for him. I've seen him several times in person, and until you've heard him respond to a photographer's flash with an immediate quote from "You Oughta Be in Pictures" or comment on a wacko heckler with an almost hidden half measure of the theme from The Twilight Zone, you haven't heard the whole story. Saturday, in his Chicago debut, Jones will perform with bassist Larry Gray and drummer Charles Braugham; Sunday he's on his own. Saturday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 11 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

NEIL TESSER

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