Tommy Muellner Quintet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Tommy Muellner Quintet


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Tommy Muellner's relative obscurity proves how vast the galaxy of Chicago jazz really is: only a whole lot of stellar talent could keep the public from noticing a pianist and tunesmith of Muellner's magnitude. But local musicians have sung his praises for years, and ex-Chicagoan Ira Sullivan has been spreading the gospel since discovering him on a return visit a few years back. Muellner makes even bad pianos sound full, digging deep into the keys and giving each note its due; he swings hard, but not so hard that he tramples his lively melodic inventions. Though he leaves no doubt about his debt to the modernist piano tradition established by Bill Evans, he's also learned from pianists who preceded Evans (Red Garland and even Erroll Garner) and some who followed him--most notably Muellner's contemporary and fellow Chicagoan John Campbell. Muellner has absorbed Campbell's lush and complicated voicings, the exquisite dynamic balance between his left and right hands, and his tale-spinning solo style. Muellner even named a tune on his first CD--last year's It's All About Time, on his own little Denwa label--in Campbell's honor ("Waltz for Cam"). Campbell will join Muellner's quartet for this one-shot, but instead of dueling the bandleader at the ivories he'll roll in his vibraphone, which he plays with all the energy (and almost all the imagination) he brings to the piano. The group also features two of Muellner's cohorts from the album--the unflappable Art Davis on trumpet and David Marr on bass--and drummer Phil Gratteau. Wednesday, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER

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