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Uri Caine Ensemble: The Goldberg Variations

Glenn Astarita By

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Pianist/composer Uri Caine has assembled a rather large aggregation of talent for this thoroughly audacious rendering of Johann Sebastian Bach's The Goldberg Variations. And while Caine has tackled Mahler, Wagner and Schumann with much success, on this release, the pianist melds classical music with genre hopping, doses of humor and sprightly interludes that makes for one heck of an extravaganza.

A 2-CD set that expands the original 30 variations into 70 pieces, we must also be cognizant of the fact that Caine's arrangements and compositions are primarily adaptations. Along with such notables as trumpeter Ralph Alessi, clarinetist Don Byron, bassist James Genus, vocalist David Moss, the Koln String Quartet and many others, Caine's musical visions draw upon a vast array of styles that includes, spoken word, DJ Logic's turntables, jazz, baroque, gospel and more. Disk 1, features pieces such as "The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Variation," where the listener is treated to David Moss' farcical vocals atop classical overtones whereas, clarinetist Greg Osby and Caine engage in a bit of free-jazz type dialogue on "Variation For Saxophone & Piano." Yet the various ensembles also meld straight-ahead jazz with variations that feature Afro-Cuban rhythms and soulful blues.

Disk 2 commences with "Variation 16 Overture" which boasts a lovely theme thanks to Cordula Breuer's luscious notes and sweet-tempered musings performed on alto recorder; however, David Moss' playfully stout and largely indecipherable vocals might be characteristic of a grumpy old codger. Here, Moss could be poking a bit of fun at Bach or possibly your stereotypical frustrated-German classical composer. All in good fun I may add.

With disk 2, you will also hear bassoon and trumpet duets, swing vamps, the great Ernst Reijseger performing a cello solo and just about anything else imaginable. Basically, one of the great attributes of this ambitious project is based upon Caine's ability to inject humor and disparate elements into his writings and arrangements; although, there's much more than meets the eye here as ideas abound with ceaseless invention and soulful articulation despite the semi austere implications. Perhaps the bottom line or desired effect of this project is contingent upon the relationships established between varying art forms and how all music is rooted and intertwined. Either way you view it, Caine's The Goldberg Variations is a magnificent event for the aural senses! Highly recommended.


Track Listing: Aria and 70 Variations for Various Ensembles Adapted and Arranged and Composed by Uri Caine after Johann Sebastian Bach.

Personnel: Musicians who perform on this recording are: Liz Alessi, Ralph Alessi, Reid Anderson, Marco Bermudez, Sadio Bey, Danny Blume, Dean Bowman, Paulo Braga, Cordula Breuer, Don Byron, Zach Danziger, Uri Caine, Vinicius Cantuaria, Milton Cardona, Michael Freimuth, James Genus, Vittorio Ghielmi, Drew Gress, Gregory Hubner, Tim Lefebvre, Arno Jochem, Wolfgang Klasener, DJ Logic, Chris Kelly, David Moss, Tracie Morris, DJ Olive, Greg Osby, Ralph Peterson, Paul Plunkett, Ernst Reijseger, Joerg Reiter, Todd Reynolds, Josh Roseman, Bob Stewart, Annegret Siedel, Barbara Walker, Reggie Washington, Kettwiger Bach Ensemble, Koln String Quartet, Quartetto Italiano Di Viole Da Gamba

Title: The Goldberg Variations | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Winter & Winter

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