WBGO Blog
  • Uri Caine Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard

    July 1, 2008. Posted by WBGO.

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    Uri Caine. (Image Credit: John Rogers/www.johnrogersnyc.com)

    A musical polymath with abundant improvising skills, pianist and composer Uri Caine convened his versatile jazz trio to kick off a weeklong residency at the Village Vanguard, with a concert broadcast live on air by WBGO and live online at NPR Music.

    The trio, featuring bassist Drew Gress and drummer Ben Perowsky, played a free-flowing set of mostly Caine's originals, including the premieres of several new tunes. They moved as a unit; when one member ventured from the scripted chord changes, the others immediately followed, launching a new direction for the song at hand. Often the band ushered one number into the next without interruption, collectively improvising the segues.

    At the piano, Caine seized many opportunities to launch dense chord clusters or loose, harmonically edgy runs down the keyboard. At times delicate and at others far from it, he also injected humor into the proceedings with a handful of gleefully distorted musical quotations. The trio ended the way their 2003 album (recorded on the very same Village Vanguard stage) begins, with a rollicking take on Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti" that showed off their advanced hard-bop credentials as well as their post-bop creativity.

    Always contextualizing older musical forms in new settings, Caine's work consistently refuses category. Within his extensive discography, he has recorded albums dedicated to solo piano performances, Tin Pan Alley, Jewish traditions and progressive electro-acoustic grooves with his Bedrock band. Caine's inventive jazz rearrangements of Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart and Wagner have garnered performance opportunities with leading orchestras, commissions from classical groups and heaps of critical praise. In 2007, NPR's Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead lauded the disc Uri Caine Ensemble Plays Mozart: "In the end, his reworkings confirm the power of Mozart's melodies, both irresistable and indestructible. ... a miracle of tone, somehow respectful and overly familiar at the same time."

    Born and raised in Philadelphia, Uri Caine came of musical age playing piano with hard bop greats like drummer "Philly Joe" Jones, bassist Jymie Merritt and saxophonist Hank Mobley. As a composition student at the University of Pennsylvania, he developed a love of the Western classical tradition while studying with two of its foremost modern innovators, composers George Crumb and George Rochberg. When he moved two hours north to New York, he soon fell into groups with fellow progressive jazz-informed musicians such as Dave Douglas, John Zorn and Don Byron. Since 1993, he has released nearly 20 albums as a leader alone.

    In his trio, Caine practices yet another musical style he's always loved: modern, acoustic, straight-ahead jazz. But like the rest of his music, his piano trio reinterprets the status quo for the format. Like Caine, both Gress and Perowsky are as open-minded as they are virtuosic, using both Caine's originals and familiar standards as springboards for spontaneous, surprising forays into adventurous improvising. The trio's engagement refreshes their infrequent but long-standing association; appropriately, their only album together as a trio was recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 2003.

  • Bourne in Montreal - Part Four

    June 30, 2008. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Woody Allen at FIJM

    Day Four  Sunday June 29th

    Amy's favorite for brunch, Cafe Cherrier, with Amy, Becca, and Michele.  I don't have to walk a dozen blocks to my own favorite for brunch, Eggspectation, now that they've opened another creperie on the corner of Place des Arts.

    Almost to the minute at 6, thunder rumbled, and rain fell just as the quintet of guitarist Reno de Stefano started playing.  I hate umbrellas but I needed to be under to write notes for the judging, but I didn't have much to write.   Most of the groups in the competition are younger players, but all the cats in DeStefano's quintet are jazz vets, or, as I noted, "grown-ups."  They've been around.  They know how to play tunes on the changes hiply.  They swing.  They can't win the prize.

    Avi Granite 6 is a definite contender.  Even as they walked out, I could see the "thing" was about to happen.  Granite plays guitar with a front line of alto, tenor, and trombone.  They played out but tunefully right from the jump, and the groove from the bass and drums was always propulsive.  Each of the players was a solid soloist.  Granite himself played guitar as if playing beyond the strings, as if playing the very electricity of the amp.   They often looked quite serious yet were often whimsical, especially the trombonist.  Avi Granite 6 is the group to beat.

    Woody Allen played to the multi-thousands of the big hall, Salle Wilfrid Pelletier.  I wondered if so many came because they expected him to be funny.  Except for saying hello and saying they'd be playing music from New Orleans, he was there to play clarinet.  When he first played, he was squeaky, he articulated notes somewhat awkwardly, and some in the audience tittered, thinking maybe he was being funny.   He was not.  Woody Allen is a tremendously adequate clarinetist, but he plays with considerable spirit, as do they all in what was called Woody Allen and His New Orleans Jazz Band.  They played and sometimes sang (everyone but Woody) blues and songs from the 20's.  When they whipped up the second line, Woody's clarinet sounded best and truly soared above the romping and stomping.  Woody thanked everyone, said this was his first time ever in Montreal.  "Playing this music for you was a treat for us," he said.  And at the finale, the multi-thousands stood and roared for more.  "I don't think they expected a reaction like this," said Michele.   Woody and the guys came back out, nodding thanks, and Eddy Davis, banjoist and the actual leader of the band, nodded his head toward the bandstand.  So they played not only more, but a lot more, including an ecstatic "Saint Louis Blues."

    We were in a room overlooking the big GM stage on the Place and, even in the rain, the crowd was dancing to a reggae/funk show called  Jamaica to Toronto.   Michele lives in Portland, so she's used to the rain.  We walked through the "spitting" to the Club Soda, but as we passed one of the tents for SIMM,  the festival's free Salon des Instruments de Musique de Montreal, 50 or 60 folks were thundering on hand drums.   Steve's Music Store in Montreal was conducting a drum-along.  Everyone who came in, including us, was handed an African hand drum and welcomed to join in the rhythmic rumble.   Invigorated from the drumming, we came to Club Soda for one of the midnight shows.  This was where, two years ago, as I wrote in the piece I posted on the WBGO blog last week,  I realized how much jazz is re-defined at the Montreal jazzfest.  You can hear the full-tilt New Orleans trad of Woody Allen and then hear the electro-klezmer-hip-hip of the group Socalled.   I'm not kidding: klezmer rap.  I was the oldest in the house, but, as always in Montreal, I was game ...

  • Bourne in Montreal - Part Three

    June 30, 2008. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Rainy FIJM

    Day Three Saturday June 28th

    Rainy but not raining, what Michele says folks in the Northwest call "spitting." Were it not wet I might've enjoyed the first group to be judged, a generic quartet fronted by saxist Jerrold Dubyk. All of these groups are good enough to be up for the prize, but only a few have that unique "thing" (tunes, grooves, presence, a character or sound) that elevates them into a winner. Dubyk's group was more or less the same as about half the groups in the competition -- except for the electric bass player's solo, which was only notes up and down the scale. "I don't want to be prejudicial," I said to some of the other judges, "but that was the worst bass solo I've ever heard." And they expressed consensus.

    Group #5 is a contender: WAZA, a trio with electric keys, electric bass, and an electrifying drummer. They played solid and quite compositional grooves, especially from the drummer. They were fun to listen to, as if listening to really hip toys. After a thunderstorm of funk from the bassist, Nancy, one of the judges, said "Now that was a bass solo!"
    Hank Jones was joined for duets by Brad Mehldau, and the interplay was wonderful. Hank played melodies or only changes elegantly while Brad danced around and through -- danced like Barishnykov.

    "Night in Tunisia" they played at first fragmented, but then Dizzy's tune blossomed. Hank's solo of "The Very Thought of You" was so deeply beautiful that Brad mostly listened, enraptured. Hank was again whimsically witty about which song they'd play next, or which piano they'd play. "Just One of Those Things" was a joyful finale, and I could hear the lyric: "it was great fun!"