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Uri Caine: Plays Mozart

C. Michael Bailey By

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Uri Caine is the most successful jazz artist at interpreting classical music. Jacques Loussier certainly applies his brand to such an approach, but he does so in an almost reverent, conservative manner. Caine throws the doors open and forces the old notes and time to reveal their decadent secrets.

Whether his canvases are established works, like Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, Bach's Goldberg Variations, or creative recreations like Gustaf Mahler at Toblack, Wagner e Venezia, and Schumann - Love Fugue, Caine recasts the familiar melodies in revealing and surprising ways. Caine now turns his attention to Mozart, addressing piano sonatas, symphonies and opera arias with a creative fervor that transforms the composer's best-known works into postmodern repressed memories.

Caine makes it about a bar deep into the first movement of the Piano Sonata in C major, K. 545 (a very familiar piece) before descending into a musical equivalent of spastic palsy that unfailing resolves every dissonance, no matter how far from the tonic he gets. Caine's performance displays his pianistic wares as well as his own fertile imagination. Only the stuffiest classical purist would not be entertained by the pianist's musings on God's imp.

As jarring an experience as the C major Sonata may be, it does not compare to the transmogrified first movement of the 40th Symphony, K550. After a lengthy free-form introduction featuring Caine, guitarist Nguyên Lê, drummer Jim Black and turntablist DJ Olive, the familiar melody is presented by the equivalent of a Jewish vaudeville band, first with violin, then trumpet and clarinet.

The effect recalls Caine's aforementioned Wagner disc, which was intended to depict a street ensemble playing at a sidewalk bistro. Here it is a vaudeville tome, preceded and followed by some Ornette Coleman-ish free jazz. Jim Black's aggressive drumming keeps everything wonderfully off-kilter. Nguyên rocks out before the melody is reintroduced and descends into a Bill Evans piano consideration over Elvin Jones.

The second movement of Symphony 41, K551 suffers the same fate of deconstruction. Black's percussion echoes over a didgeridoo before the ensemble descends into the slow movement, picking up at the stage door where the 40th Symphony left off. None of Mozart's beauty is sacrificed. Nguyên faithfully follows the piece, giving it a decided edge; Caine adds the necessary sanity from the piano. The cumulative effect is overwhelming in scope and cannot be comprehended with one listening. This is demanding music which rewards the listener's patience after several spins.

Caine's interpretation of the finale of the Clarinet Quintet in A major, K 581 is exceptionally fine. Again, the orchestration is Hebraic and clarinetist Chris Speed is in most fine form. Caine slows the movement to a funeral pace, recalling his forays into Mahler. He plumbs the depths of other Mozart classics with this same inventiveness and aplomb, making Plays Mozart a most entertaining disc.


Track Listing: Piano Sonata in C Major (first movement); Symphony 40 in G Minor (first movement); Symphony 41 in C Major (second movement); Clarinet Quintet in A Major (fourth movement); Piano Sonata in C Major (second movement); Sinfonia Concertante in Eb Major (third movement; "Batti, Batti O Bel Masetto" aria from "Don Giovanni"; "Bei Mannern, Welche Liebe Fuhlen" duet and "Der Holle Rache Kocht in Meinem Herzen" aria from "Die Zauberflote"; Turkish Rondo from Piano Sonata in A Major; Piano Sonata in C Major (third movement).

Personnel: Uri Caine: piano; Joyce Hammann: violin; Chris Speed: clarinet; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Nguyen Le: electric guitar; DJ Olive: turntables; Drew Gress: double bass; Jim Black: drums.

Title: Plays Mozart | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Winter & Winter

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