Siren is the first studio recording to feature pianist Uri Caine leading a traditional acoustic trio since 1998's Blue Wail (Winter & Winter). Since then, most of Caine's albums have alternated between radical reinterpretations of the work of revered classical composers like Beethoven, Mozart and Schummann, and the heavily amplified funk excursions of his Bedrock trio with bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Zach Danziger. Stripped down to their basic foundations however, most of Caine's efforts typically revolve around the classic piano trio format. Bassist Drew Gress and drummer Ben Perowsky have been Caine's primary accomplices in this configuration, last documented on Live at the Village Vanguard (Winter & Winter, 2004). Maintaining a semblance of consistency, Perowsky returns for this sublime session, with John Hébert filling the bass chair.
An eclectic artist of catholic taste, Caine is by turns ruminative or animated; his fluid single note runs transition gracefully from hushed filigrees to boisterous arpeggios, leading Hébert and Perowsky through the chromatic progressions and modulating tempos of eleven diverse originals and one classic cover. Working as one, the trio's congenial rapport is suffused with an omnipresent blues feeling that pervades each of their interpretationsfrom a rapturous cover of "On Green Dolphin Street" to the impressionistic languor of "Hazy Lazy Crazy."
A neo-traditionalist at heart, Caine alludes to his abiding interest in pre-swing styles like ragtime and stride throughout the dateas demonstrated by the cascading intervals of "Interloper." Reveling in the joys of unfettered swing, the trio digs deep into the bluesy fatback grooves of "Crossbow" and the oblique angles of "Calibrated Thickness" with palpable fervor. They hint at stylistic interests beyond the mainstream, navigating multiple time signatures on the funky "Tarshish" and ebullient Latin rhythms on "Manual Defile," with no piece exceeding six minutes. Each of these compact tunes serves as a self-contained model of brevity, encouraging pointedly concise statements from Caine, Hébert and Perowsky.
Bolstered by astute listening skills, the trio's intimate three-way dialogues offer inventive interpretations of established traditions, the understated stylistic shifts providing a cohesive sensibility to the proceedings. The trio's mastery of dynamics enriches the quality of its harmonious discourse; Hébert's eloquent precision makes him an ideal partner for Perowsky, whose responsive dexterity encourages the leader's full range of expressionismfrom the heartbreaking balladry of the introspective "Foolish Me" to the audacious freeform interludes of "Free Lunch." Siren is a welcome return to form for Caine, whose recent endeavors have highlighted his compositional skills more often than his improvisational mettle.