Miri Ben-Ari | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Miri Ben-Ari


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Maybe it comes from growing up in the middle of a simmering civil war, but Israelis, at least the ones I know, seem to have a preternatural awareness of their surroundings. So when violinist Miri Ben-Ari walks onstage at the Green Mill, I'm guessing she'll take one look at the prewar decor, glance at the down-to-earth crowd, and decide to skip the smooth, synth-augmented tunes at the beginning and end of her debut disc, Sahara (Half Note). The 28-year-old Ben-Ari--who first heard about Charlie Parker from a fellow recruit in the Israeli army--has a dark, penetrating tone, something like Jean-Luc Ponty's, and whether she's playing a ballad or cutting loose with some fairly nasty blues licks, she's clearly overqualified for the lite stuff. It just homogenizes her style, flattening out its enticing quirks and obscuring her artistic soul. Ben-Ari's at her best when she embraces her roots, incorporating Middle Eastern scales into her improvising and compositions. On several cuts she also tackles a tough update of fusion, with fingers more than fast enough for the genre's technical demands and an infectious feel for its charged rhythms. And when she combines Middle Eastern elements and fusion, she arrives at a sort of sabra strut--the closest comparison I can make is to Michal Urbaniak's early-70s goulash of jazz, Balkan folk, and electronics. I haven't seen Ben-Ari play, but reports from the road suggest she can really tear things up onstage; the piano trio backing her in Chicago includes one holdover from Sahara, drummer Steve Hass. Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lourdes Delgado.

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