Michal Urbaniak | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Michal Urbaniak

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Jazz violin earned its first starring role in the 1920s, when earthy virtuoso Joe Venuti appeared; in the 30s you had Stephane Grappelli and his sweet rococo swing. For years after, most jazz fiddlers combined these two influences. But in the 70s, when the electrified violin found its voice in jazz-rock fusion, the old dichotomy resurfaced in the persons of Jean-Luc Ponty and Michal Urbaniak. Ponty inherited and updated the glittering brilliance of fellow Frenchman Grappelli; Urbaniak offered a rougher-hewn tone and ballsy attack reminiscent of the Venuti school, ornamenting his playing with piquant folk music phrases from his native Poland. The banshee wail of Urbaniak's electric fiddle, in unison with the round, pure tones of vocalist Urszula Dudziak (then his wife), soared above the thumping, complex fusion beat--but Urbaniak also retained a melodic flow from his days as a bop-head saxophonist in the 1950s. In subsequent years he's fooled around with reggae and even a little hip-hop, and has turned increasingly to composing (he now has some 15 sound tracks to his credit). But he's also reinvestigated the mainstream music of his youth, recording some terrific quartet albums of standards and bop classics that bring out different aspects of his fierce lyricism and fearless technique. He hasn't played Chicago in seven years, and that alone would make this gig (which features his current rhythm section, also from Poland) worth the price of admission. The clincher? The band will be joined by Polish-born Chicago vocalist Grazyna Auguscik, an admirer of Dudziak's pioneering use of electronics to manipulate and loop her voice, which helped distinguish Urbaniak's fusion bands. Auguscik's presence opens up a world of possibilities. Friday, October 4, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

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