Randy Sabien | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Randy Sabien


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Why does it always take so long for Randy Sabien--who lives about eight hours up the pike, in northern Wisconsin, fercrissake--to return to Chicago? (This weekend marks his second or third visit this decade; even so, he remains worth the wait.) When he first came on the scene, in the early 80s, Sabien merged key elements from the two classic schools of jazz violin playing: Although he descends mostly from the gritty boisterousness of Joe Venuti, Sabien still summons up echoes of the elegant French precision that Stephane Grappelli brought to improvisation. (In that sense, he reminds one of a younger version of Johnny Frigo, the ageless Chicago violinist.) Some other violinists have managed to similarly fuse these two approaches, and some have pushed this approach further by incorporating more modern characteristics. But the ranks of truly swinging jazz fiddlers remain pretty thin, and Sabien surely belongs up near the front. His full-bodied tone is suited not only to swing and bop, but also to folk forms like bluegrass--a tone so strong he can revel in it much the way classic jazz tenormen indulged a ballad or manipulated a rocking blues. Two recent self-released albums demonstrate his versatility: Paintin' the Canvas features a sextet playing music Sabien describes as "the Allman Brothers meet Art Blakey," while his new disc, Live at the Cafe-Carpe, offers up acoustic string-band swing with guitar and bass. You probably haven't heard either of them, thanks to poor distribution--which makes this gig an even more valuable opportunity to catch up on Sabien's recent work. Friday, 10 PM, Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division; 235-3232.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo of Randy Sabien.

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