Mike Jones Trio | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mike Jones Trio 

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When Mike Jones was still a kid, he had a chance to ask the peerless Oscar Peterson how he too might become a great jazz pianist; Peterson told him to go to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Jones did, and one night classmate Diana Krall dragged him to a local hotel to hear another distinctive keyboardist, Dave McKenna. From these two models, Jones fashioned a hybrid piano style that's among the most technically accomplished in jazz history. When he plays solo, as on his four albums for Chiaroscuro, his left hand offers a crisp variation on McKenna's propulsive walking bass while his right hand spins dazzling arabesques at preposterous speeds, recalling Peterson's legendary virtuosity. To break things up, the hyperactive Jones will drop everything to execute a perfectly constructed stop-time episode, toss off several measures of speeding locked-hand chords a la Art Tatum (whose style he imitates as well as anyone), or throw in a wickedly unexpected quotation that comments on anything from the song at hand to a noise from the bar. The Vegas-based Jones is very much a throwback: he plays lots of ancient standards in arrangements rampant with stride bass, unrepentant swing, and the raucous zeal of Fats Waller. But that's when he performs alone (most often these days opening for illusionists Penn & Teller). Place him in a trio and his focus shifts forward in time: the songs get more modern and the textures less dense, and he can pay even more attention to line and contour in his improvisations. This requires just the right accompanists--a bassist whose time rings as true as Jones's own left hand and a drummer who can engage the music but stay out of the pianist's rollicking way. He'll get just what he needs in Chicagoans Kelly Sill and Tim Davis. Friday, December 20, 9 PM, and Saturday, December 21, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

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