Pianist Uri Caine has a tendency toward a thematic approach, but it's refreshing to hear him simply return to roots. With this live acoustic trio date alongside bassist Drew Gress and drummer Ben Perowsky he does what he does best: just play,
and see where it goes. That relatively informal approach, combined with the fact that this recording is almost 77 minutes long (!), make it a savory hunk of musical meat.
Live was recorded over the course of three days in May of 2003 at the New York venue which has come to define the live club date. It's a nice collection of pieces which draw at their core from the shared chemistry among these three players, but the epicenter of the action lies right at the tips of Caine's fingers, wherever they might dance.
It's rather remarkable that these ten tunes don't fly loose or scamper around indulgently, given the enthusiastic setting and the relatively open format. But each is its own tune apart, with a distinct mood and style. The sharp edge and unpredictable stabs of "Stiletto" mark the left-most boundary, relying on ordered moments of dissonance delivered as bursts of energy amidst a quick, swinging flow. But there's nothing furious or harsh about the piece, though; it dances more than swaggers, bobbing and weaving, holding together instead of exploding apart. Parts, including the statement of the theme at the end, are remarkably tight.
From that polar extreme Caine spreads out a tableau that includes cubist abstraction, syncopated blues, lyrical drama, touches of soul jazz and gospel, and generous helping of swinging hard bop energy. While odd and jumpy phrasing render most of the record unpredictable, it's pretty clear that these players are most at home in and around a groove. Drummer Ben Perowsky certainly favors swing and a regular pulse; bassist Drew Gress is a team player most of the time.
Caine's touch on the piano can be sensitive and sweet, but he generally favors more of a crispy edge, especially in terms of rhythm and harmony. The bass is not particularly forward in the mix, but the overall sound is plenty inviting. The trio's propulsive movement demands attention, and while the audience does inject enthusiasm and support, the emphasis here is strictly on the music. It's spontaneous, sophisticated, and self-conscious, but in a very unassuming and natural way. While it would have been nice to hear just one night's performance in its entirety (thus preserving the natural flow of the music), this hefty marathon set of three patched together works just fine.