Grazyna Auguscik | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Grazyna Auguscik

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GRAZYNA AUGUSCIK

The Polish-born Grazyna Auguscik is a jazz rarity--a vocalist who, by dint of temperament and training, refuses to rely on mere sentimentality. Her lustrous voice is not overtly "warm"; she makes her passion obvious, but not in the obvious ways. She's the musical equivalent of a distance runner, with a muscular, concentrated style and no excess fat or wasted movement. In Auguscik's music, emotion has to share the stage with cool musicianship, rhythmic exactitude, and an analytical intelligence she applies to the melodies even more than she does to the words. That intelligence lights up her often startling new Pastels, a collection of duets released on Auguscik's own GMA Records. The program consists almost entirely of standards, but Auguscik and Polish pianist Bogdan Holownia have torn them apart, rewriting the melodies and offering radical reharmonizations. Take their version of the Ellington classic "Caravan": the tune as written uses a series of chordal suspensions to build tension and intrigue; Auguscik and Holownia have replaced these with a sequence of discrete descending harmonies, which skip to new, fast mazurka rhythms, moving the song from the desert of northern Africa to a conservatory in Warsaw, which suddenly becomes equally exotic. On "Willow Weep for Me," the pair bends the melody's signature swoop into a less melodramatic but more graceful arc; and at a duo concert last weekend, they gently stripped "The Girl From Ipanema" of its signature lilt, turning the springy bossa nova into an autumnal reflection. Not everyone will find these reconceptions to their liking, but they unveil an imaginative audacity that I don't hear nearly often enough. Auguscik celebrates the album's release with a quartet that includes the puckish Holownia (on a monthlong visit from Poland), guitarist John McLean, bassist Eric Hochber, and Eric Montzka, whose recent spurt of musical growth has thrust him to the forefront of the city's jazz-drum corps. Friday, 5:30 PM, Pops for Champagne, 2934 N. Sheffield; 773-472-1000. Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N.Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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