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Uri Caine: Transformation, Improvisation and Context

By Published: October 9, 2006

AAJ: Yes, the presentation—and what something is expected to be—is enormous.

UC: Also, how the people are behaving within their own thing. I mean, if you come into a club where something is seen as normal, and not strange, and people get up, then it's okay. If you're sitting in a very formalized club, and everybody is sitting down and paying for their drinks, that's a very different situation. Again, it's another one of those things where, as a musician, you're thinking, "I just want to play. But how people react to it, and decide whether it's good or bad, is up to them.

AAJ: Shelf-Life is a fantastic-sounding record. It's great on speakers or headphones. Who mixed it?

UC: I would say it was mixed mostly by Zach. All of us were sort of deciding how we wanted to do it, and some of the tunes were also mixed in Europe with [Winter & Winter label head/producer] Stefan Winter and his engineer, Adrian von Ripka, who recorded it at the Magic Shop, which is a studio in New York City. So it was sort of a joint effort—but Zach really deserves most of the credit for mixing.

AAJ: Let's talk about your jazz trio. This group consists of yourself, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Ben Perowsky. Live at the Village Vanguard is the only one from this version of your trio; it came out in 2004. This is your acoustic jazz group, another band that's still working together. I think you played out last month.

UC: Right. We played at the Village Vanguard again, and other places in New York City. I guess the last long tour we did was in Europe last year. And we played at Yoshi's; we've played some on the West Coast, and at other festivals around the United States and Europe. It's still an active group.

AAJ: I think it's increasingly challenging to find something new with an acoustic piano trio, because there are an awful lot of them. On the other hand, it's a perfect format for jazz music, and I really like this group. Tell me about this band—about Drew and Ben and what, if any, your intentions for the group might be.

UC: Well, we have been playing together for a while, not as a trio, but in other people's groups. I think that's how we met; I know that I met Ben, and Drew also, probably in the early nineties, just functioning as rhythm sections for other people. And then playing a lot in each other's groups as well. Since I've started playing music, I've been into playing straight-ahead acoustic jazz. I grew up playing that; that was one of the foundations of my music. It's something that I've always been interested in, so I guess I've just continued to develop that. We've been playing together as a group, even before that record, for the last five or six years. I like the freedom that we have. Even though we also play compositions and standards sometimes, we're just sort of using that as a springboard to play in a very loose and free improvisatory way. I think that this is, again, a really cue-based music, where we might be playing in a certain area and then somebody will signal, and then off we go into this other type of section or this other feeling. So it changes up.

I guess, similarly to Bedrock, there's this idea of trying to transform things, to change grooves, and not to stay in the same place—but also, using the structures that are implied by playing standards or even original places that go into certain grooves, certain time signatures, or a certain feel. Especially since playing with musicians like Ben and Drew, who are very flexible and can play in a lot of styles, allows a certain freedom. We don't really plan out what we're going to do before we play. We have a certain repertoire and certain pieces that we know that we've been playing, and then we just go for it. Again, it's one of those things that sometimes sounds tighter, and other times sounds pretty loose. And even though I know that it's a form that many people, many musicians, many great pianists have done, it's still something that is really fun to play.

And I'm still trying to develop in that area, you know—I keep on practicing the piano and writing music for the group. I think that we enjoy swinging in that group. That, to me, is the joy of playing in that group: that we're trying to somehow keep that spontaneity going. And also refer to a lot of the music that is coming out of the jazz tradition. Not just standards, but the feeling of the blues, the feeling of swing, and also maybe a freer type of playing. A playing that's not so harmonic, that's not staying in the same time signature all the time. It feels like something that's growing, and I'm still interested in investigating it. So hopefully, that will continue. I've definitely tried to continue playing in that form. Maybe I would add more horn players in the future; I've made some records in the past that had larger groups. But the thing I like about the trio setting is that it's very open, especially if you're playing with other musicians that are really sensitive to that. It can be a very spontaneous thing.

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