Friday, 25 April 2008

Uri Caine at the Village Vanguard...

It's been longer than usual between posts, but I've been busy writing new reviews for the magazine - deadline next week. That shouldn't be an excuse, because it hardly takes five minutes to post something that's already been written and published, but as an explanation it's at least a start.

Worth mentioning the stunning new album by Bobby Previte (featuring Ellery Eskelin) that I'm working on, and also the new Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet disc (Songlines), which Tony from the label was kind enough to send me and which I'll try to get slotted into the magazine soon.

So, with Previte and Horvitz occupying my mind, I may as well post something with a 'Downtown' connection. This fairly mainstream set from Uri Caine is the best I can do. I tackle the issue of the decline (in my view) of the 'Downtown' scene and namecheck Horvitz, so there's some topicality if nothing else.

I still feel that the new Downtown NY avant-garde (William Parker's separate circle most definitely excluded) is a pale and pretty uninteresting shadow of the old. With the great Wayne Horvitz now based way out west, I'm delighted that Previte's current run of form restores both some quality and some hope for more individualistic and eclectic sounds in future...

Live At The Village Vanguard
Winter & Winter (910102 2)

Nefertiti; All The Way; Stiletto; I Thought About You; Otello; Snaggletooth; Go Deep; Cheek To Cheek; Most Wanted; Bush Wack.

Uri Caine (p); Drew Gress (b); Ben Perowsky (d).
Recorded May 2003.

Prominent in the second flowering of New York’s ‘downtown’ scene in much the same way as Wayne Horvitz was in the first, Uri Caine also perfectly illustrates the differences between the two eras. Although eclectic, adventurous and not averse to musical irony, today’s generation tend to be far less off-the -wall than the class of the ‘80s. Today’s music sits closer to the jazz mainstream and as such is probably less likely to date so noticeably. Caine’s relationship with label boss Stefan Winter goes right back to the JMT days, and you cold say that he’s of similar importance to Winter as Keith Jarrett is to ECM’s Manfred Eicher. Past projects have ranged from re-workings of Mahler and Wagner, to urban crossovers involving DJs and vocalists.

This session, a piano/bass/drums trio, picks up where 1998’s ‘Blue Wail’ left off. Partners Gress and Perowsky , themselves members of the tight-knit ‘downtown’ scene, put aside their more experimental urges to serve up some high quality and uncompromising acoustic jazz. The venue for the recording, with so much history behind it, is a significant factor shaping the music - you couldn’t really imagine the same trio surrendering so much to the idiom at either Tonic or the ‘Knit’.

The programme is well paced, important on a lengthy disc, and consists of Caine originals with a smattering of standards. The leader’s fondness for Herbie Hancock is never too far away, and his classical influences are never strongly evident too. An angular romp through Wayne Shorter’s ‘Nefertiti’ lights the blue touch paper, only for ‘All The Way’ to bring it back down again with its quiet balladry, a la Bill Evans. ‘I Thought About You’ gets an unaccompanied avant-stride intro before Perowsky and Gress enter to set up an ebullient mid-tempo swinger.

The closing ‘Bush Wack’ is the closest we get to ‘downtown’ radicalism, and incendiary salvo aimed at the sitting President of the United States of America. Every track offers some remarkable and unexpected twist, and unlike his classical crossovers, tradition meets the contemporary in a way that never seems too contrived. This trio is meatier than EST, more visceral than Jarrett’s ‘Standards’ trio, and most certainly worthy of your attention. Recommended.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, August 2004)

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