The classical associations of the violin only go so far in explaining its rarity in jazz. The instrument is widely considered the hardest to learn–at least, the hardest to learn well enough to play in public–and in a music dependent on improvisation, which in turn depends on virtuosity, the winnowing process becomes accordingly harsher than it would be for, say, saxophonists. That’s the main reason that a list of great jazz violinists would barely stuff an F hole. Even the list of good ones comes up pretty short–but Diane Delin reserved her spot on it in the 80s, almost as soon as she hit the scene. She plays with a strong, sure tone, thoughtful, engaging lines, and enough command of modern jazz harmony to take zingy excursions from a tune’s main melody. And even though the instrument’s translucent timbre makes it difficult for most violinists to generate much in the way of rhythmic heat, Delin can on occasion light a real fire under both a band and an audience. (Here she’ll have help from a rock-solid rhythm section led by Dennis Luxion, who’s an imaginative colorist on piano, bassist Michael Arnopol, and the aptly named drummer Tom Hipskin.) Since she works in a town that enjoys the legerdemain of Johnny Frigo, she brooks comparison with him, but she shouldn’t have to: Delin’s style is much less defined by glittering leaps and rococo ornamentation than Frigo’s swing-era wizardry. These days Delin concentrates less on the usual jazz standards and popular classics and more on her own compositions, written in a “contemporary” vein; this jury’s still out on those. She hasn’t played many jazz gigs in recent years, a casualty of the old battle between commerce and art, so this engagement at the Metropole is that much more alluring–despite the tendency of hotel patrons to wander in and use the music as a sound track for their often overloud discussions. Tuesday through next Saturday, August 22, Metropole Room, Fairmont Hotel, Illinois Center, 200 N. Columbus; 312-565-7444. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Suzanne Plunkett.