With an artist as diverse and sometimes eclectic as Uri Caine, it’s worth noting first and foremost this album delivers what the title promises: a relatively straightforward jazz trio gig that should satisfy fans and new listeners.
Live At The Village Vanguard features the pianist in a nearly non-stop blowout session of mostly original tunes with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Ben Perowsky. Caine, perhaps best known for wild reinterpretations of classical composes such as Bach and Mahler that horrify some purists, is in no danger of of running the same risk with jazz crowd on this disc unless someone finds the intensity overwhelming.
Of course, this being Caine, there are adventurous touches that will please fans and throw those who’ve relegated the music to the background for a loop. He kicks off his first original (“Stiletto”) on the album’s third track with a rather discordant bit of interplay with Perowsky that makes one wonder if he’s going to launch into a bit of acoustic acid jazz akin to Medeski, Martin and Wood’s Tonic. He ultimately “settles” into more conventional territory, but by no means does it ever feel less than wholly inspired and original.
The beauty of Caine’s playing on this album is it’s neither overly academic nor condescending. His up-tempo romps are full of quick-hitting phrases that always feel accessible to the audience, while always taking them into new territory without relying on cliches. Perowsky refuses to be banished from consciousness throughout, maintaining a contemporary groove that almost always complements Caine—or at least doesn’t get in his way. Only Gress suffers here—he’s plenty skilled, but doesn’t have the acoustic presence and wild abandon necessary to compete for attention on this stage.
Even on the few ballads, the group almost never takes a breather. Perowsky launches “Otello,” for example, with a cymbal-heavy, near-African rhythm that feels like it’s straining to burst loose as Caine joins him with a simple yet supremely tasty hook that he exploits in endless variety throughout the interplay. It is a supreme statement of how simplicity can be masterful.
Caine clearly ranks among the first tier of contemporary pianists, such as Jason Moran, Brad Mehldau and Danilo Perez, who are defining what modern jazz should be. This is not a landmark album, if only because he and others are turning out exceptional work so consistently, but one that can be recommended without reservation to anyone who actually listens to their jazz.