Since moving to New York six years ago, former Chicagoan Deanna Witkowski has continued to turn heads with a tough, wiry, and dynamic piano style; her shy demeanor and unassuming, girlish vocals only accentuate the effect. After twice reaching the finals of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition, she took first place in the 2002 edition, and her second release, this year’s Wide Open Window (Khaeon), documents a considerable leap from her self-produced debut: her playing has more power, and her treatment of material reveals a new depth of texture. The album features the quartet she’ll appear with this week, which includes Chicagoans Jonathan Paul on bass and Tom Hipskind on drums, and terrific New York saxophonist Donny McCaslin, whose own new disc, The Way Through (Arabesque), represents a considerable step in his career. In many ways it’s a step away from the mainstream: on several pieces McCaslin experiments with electronics and multitracking, and elsewhere, influenced perhaps by a stint with Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez, he references the music of other cultures. He doesn’t confine himself to the typical Latin touchstones of Cuba or Brazil, either–the title track, for instance, recalls gamelan music with its use of pentatonic scales and slow-moving marimba lines. Whenever Witkowski returns to Chicago, she fills her dance card right up; this five-day visit includes a college date, a club date, an in-store, two church gigs, and a free downtown concert. (In case you somehow miss all these, she’s also a guest Tuesday on the NPR show Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz.) Friday, November 21, 8 PM, Barrows Auditorium, Wheaton College, 500 College, Wheaton; 630-752-5010. Saturday, November 22, 1 PM (McCaslin/Witkowski Duo), Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467. Saturday, November 22, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. Sunday, November 23, 11 AM, LaSalle Street Church, 1136 N. LaSalle; 312-473-8800. Sunday, November 23, 4 PM, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 320 Franklin, Geneva; 630-232-0133. Monday, November 24, 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.