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Uri Caine: The Classical Variations

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The Classical Variations is, in effect, a commemoration of Uri Caine's decade-long series of ambitious and sometimes idiosyncratic explorations of classical repertoire from Bach to Mahler. It combines previously released selections from Caine's Winter & Winter CDs along with unreleased material. A little more than half the material has appeared in previous releases focused on Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Wagner and Mahler, while the unreleased, generally recent, material focuses on Bach, Mahler and Verdi.

The selection immediately makes apparent the breadth and scale of Caine's work, drawing on musicians from baroque specialists Quartetto Italiano di Viole da Gamba (for two new Goldberg variations) to turntablist DJ Logic (another new Bach variation) with everything that might be described as in between: classical choirs, gospel singers, poets and post-bop jazz bands. Part of Caine's success comes from his profound understanding of his material, its internal dynamics and elasticity (eg, "The Desdemona Variation" on Verdi's Othello with singer Josefine Lindstrand and a jazz quartet). That may account for the sensitivity and intelligence of much of this music.

What counts for more, though, is Caine's wit and his developed sense of the creative collision. You get it in "Only Love Beauty," in which divergent notions of the spiritual in music arise in the contrasting pitch inflections of Barbara Walker and the Kettwiger Bach Ensemble. It's there too in the rambunctious stride piano of "The Fats Variation," a Waller-esque take on Bach, or in the almost hypothetical account of Mozart's "Turkish Rondo," pushing it into a raw, modal, middle Eastern-flavored group improvisation.

Caine's variations are as apt to restore an original melodic grace as to deconstruct historical context, liberating the music in the exercise of his own freedom. While this is likeliest to serve as an introduction to his varied classical projects, there's enough new material here to appeal to the committed.

Track Listing: Only Love Beauty [after Mahler]; Variation XXXII [after Beethoven, Diabelli Variations]; Variation XXXIII [after Beethoven, Diabelli Variations]; Variation 10 for Fortepiano and Viola da Gamba Quartet [after Bach, Goldberg Variations]; H

Personnel: Uri Caine: piano; Barbara Walker: vocals; Mark Ledford: vocals; David Moss: vocals; Josefine Lindstrand: vocals; Kettwiger Bach Ensemble: choir; Wolfgang Kl

Title: The Classical Variations | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Winter & Winter

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