Michael Rabinowitz | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Michael Rabinowitz 

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Bassoonist Michael Rabinowitz named his most recent album, released on the Dutch label Edition Compusic, Rabinowitz in Utopia. While the title doesn't scan as well as Alice in Wonderland, sharing a Dutch rhythm section with oboist Kathy Halvorson must have made Rabinowitz feel as if he'd stepped through the looking glass and found his mirror image: like him, Halvorson is classically trained but drawn to jazz, and though she's not at Rabinowitz's level she too improvises on a temperamental instrument better suited to chamber music. I can't think of any other jazz setting for two double reeds, and I'm certain no other improviser has come close to the abandon and invention Rabinowitz brings to the bassoon. Many classical players have cultivated a fragile, faraway tone, but he's developed a flexible, virile, and remarkably forceful sound to meet the needs of jazz. And he uses a variety of techniques you won't hear at Symphony Center: wailing into an eerie, liberating octave-length glissando; slap-tonguing to re-create the attack of a finger-popped electric bass; overblowing so hard that his raspy low register sounds like it's been run through a fuzz pedal. Rabinowitz in Utopia, recorded about 18 months ago, documents the depth of tone and death-defying finger work the bassoonist displayed when he played in Chicago last year; he's also explored his odd instrument's hidden potential so thoroughly that he can make his horn sound like a flute, tenor or soprano sax, or even a bass clarinet. Rabinowitz will play with pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Marlene Rosenberg, and drummer Dana Hall--a Chicago rhythm section that swings as hard as he does--and this weekend's sets should include bebop tunes and Coltrane classics, as well as Rabinowitz's originals (which owe a great debt to Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis). Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. Neil Tesser

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