Even though iron-toned trombonist Wycliffe Gordon has played an important role in Wynton Marsalis's bands for most of a decade now, he's still an appropriate choice to kick off the "Rising Stars of Jazz" series this week at Ravinia. A superstar like Marsalis tends to overshadow sidemen, even those as engaging as Gordon, and that accounts in part for his relative obscurity. Gordon has also led few groups of his own, and though he has four albums under his name, they're all on relatively small European labels. And, of course, he plays the trombone--which, the efforts of Ray Anderson, George Lewis, and Steve Turre notwithstanding, rarely takes a starring role in any jazz band. But even though Gordon, a proper neoclassicist, will probably never go skittering around the screech register like those players, his horn makes a convincing lead: with exquisite intonation and fearless articulation, he wraps up the instrument's early history, from tailgate to hard bop, in a neat and powerful package. A deeply religious man, he infuses his music with gospel overtones, both as a leader and a player. He's also a skilled composer for jazz orchestra, and while this talent won't manifest itself at these quartet performances, it may well be the thing that distinguishes him in the long run. Gordon has developed rapidly in his writing for Lincoln Center's orchestra, and his most recent and ambitious project--a sound track for a 1925 silent film by Oscar Micheaux, Body and Soul, presented as part of the New York film festival--suggests he has the potential to corral other large-form works in the near future. He'll appear here with his regular group, which stars pianist Ray Gallon, a veteran of more forward-thinking bands led by George Adams and T.S. Monk. Tuesday, November 7, 8 PM, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell, Arlington Heights; 847-577-2121. Wednesday, November 8, 8 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. Thursday, November 9, 7:30 PM, DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.; 773-947-0600.