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Michael Cain: Sola

Karl Ackermann By

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In his long and well-established career, keyboardist/composer Michael Cain has often flown under the radar. Dating back to 1991, Cain was part of the bassist Anthony Cox's impressive quartet which included saxophonist Dewey Redman drummer Billy Higgins in its initial formation. His fine piano trio outing Circa (ECM, 1997) with trumpeter Ralph Alessi and saxophonist Peter Epstein was worthy of wider recognition as well. Among the top talent Cain worked with in those intervening years were Dave Holland, Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman Ravi Coltrane and Marty Ehrlich.

With a handful of additional recordings that include the Alessi/Epstein trio, another trio—back with Cox—and some solo work, Cain has spent more time as a member of the faculties of the Eastman School of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. With Sola he reemerges with a single CD featuring two distinctive line ups a variety of aesthetic variations.

The collection includes a sextet line up and a trio formation with Cain on keys and programming with the larger ensemble and piano and keys on the two trio tracks. While the sextet has few familiar names, the small combo boasts of the ubiquitous veteran drummer Billy Hart.

The opening track, "Orun" (the Yoruba word for Sun) begins with drummer Renaldo Elliott's rapid attack then abruptly turns into a swirl of brass and reeds featuring trumpeter Mike Gonzales and Eddie Rich on saxophone. A traditional dance song from Cameroon, "Esu Dance" has Cain's repetitive electronics opening the door to another blistering performance from Gonzales. The funky sound of "In the Front Door" is diametrically opposed to historical voice over of the late trumpeter/bandleader Gerald Wilson (a Cain mentor) who recounts the trials of playing through the racial obstacles of 1940s-1960s Las Vegas clubs.

The track "Mais Uma Noite" (One More Night) finally introduces the New York trio with Hart and bassist James Genus in a Brazilian flavored ballad. The CD reverts to the Las Vegas group for the next three tracks where Cain successfully mashes up influences as disparate as African melodies and electronic dance music. The loping, but deceptively multi-layered, "The Sin You've Been Looking For" is one of the albums highlights, preceding the closer, "My Moyo," a ballad that brings back the New York group.

The alternating styles and formations on Sola work well together and thought the sextet lacks familiar names, the virtuosity of the players is without question. Cain stiches together mostly high-spirited compositions and solidly executes on each. While Sola may not be groundbreaking, it's a fine example of blending influences and stylistic approaches in an altogether appealing package.

Track Listing: Orun; Esu Dance; In the Front Door; Mais Uma Noite; Wogg; Ne Se Fia; The Sin You’ve Been Looking For; My Moyo.

Personnel: Michael Cain: keys, piano, programming; Rinaldo Elliott: drums; Abo Gumroyan; bass; Mike Gonzales: trumpet; Eddie Rich: saxophone; Julian Tanaka: clarinet; Billy Hart: drums (4, 8); James Genus: bass (4, 8).

Title: Sola | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Self Produced

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