Uri Caine / Christian McBride / Ahmir Thompson: The Philadelphia Experiment (2002)

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Uri Caine / Christian McBride / Ahmir Thompson: The Philadelphia Experiment
List the capital cities of jazz and one finds the usual suspects—New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago—but one city is too often forgotten: Philadelphia. Yes, the City of Brotherly Love, so often the butt of jokes and unkind (if not always inaccurate) characterizations. Say what you want about the city of Benjamin Franklin and Mayor Frank Rizzo, but anyone who knows, knows you can't say Philly doesn't smoke.

Bassist Christian McBride, pianist Uri Caine and drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson also come from Philadelphia. But while the three musicians had some common history—McBride used to jam with Thompson when both were students at the Philadelphia High School of Creative and Performing Art, and he also played some of his earliest jazz gigs with Caine—that was 10 or 12 years ago at least, and these three diverse players had never played together as a trio. Not until one rainy day last September when they escaped into a Philadelphia studio for three days and cut the 11 tracks of The Philadelphia Experiment. The circumstances of the session bring to mind Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, in which the trumpet player showed up in the studio with only the roughest of sketches which he and his cohorts spun into brilliant art on the spot. Musically, however, the disc reminds one of Miles' early fusion experiments or Herbie Hancock's work from the '70s, seething with energy and street-smarts, evoking many subtle moods. Bright trumpet licks and rich guitar textures provided by fellow 'Delphians Jon Swana and Pat Martino make the Miles comparison especially apt on the title number. The tune starts quietly, like the sun rising over the still-sleeping town or the germ of a new idea. The tune segues into "Grover," a tribute to smooth sax man Grover Washington. There is deep groove here, as well as soul, funk and blues. Caine's rock-solid work on the Fender Rhodes again evokes the funky '70s. "Lesson #4" sounds like a group improv, with McBride and Thompson serving as the anchors through Caine's flights of fancy. The trio-plus-Martino rock, funk and finally blast off on Sun Ra's "Call for All Demons." A deeply funky "Trouble Man Theme" offers more tasty playing by Swana and in-the-pocket drumming by Thompson. Later, "(re)MOVEd" calls to mind Philly's not-so-sunny history of racial disharmony, while "Philadelphia Freedom" offers an unexpected cello solo by Larry Gold. The last track, "Mister Magic," ends with a sunny bass solo on "Just the Two of Us." There is joy and excitement here—the joy of three consummate musicians doing what they do best, and the excitement of an experiment, an adventure, an undertaking in which no one really knows what to expect—and, yes, there is also a glimpse of the gritty, sunny, turbulent, soulful heart of the city.

Track Listing: Philadelphia Experiment; Grover; Lesson #4; Call for all Demons; Trouble Man Theme; Ain't it the Truth' Ile Ife; The Miles Hit; (re)MOVEd; Philadelphia Freedom; Mister Magic.

Style: Funk/Groove


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