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Uri Caine Ensemble: The Othello Syndrome

Martin Longley By

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Addressing the output of classical composers seems eventually to have become the dominant thrust of keyboardist Uri Caine's work. Schumann, Wagner, Bach, Beethoven and Mahler have fallen to sometimes radical re-posturing of their grand scores. Caine messes with the old assumed interpretations, deliberately distorting the usual expectations of performance by inserting elements of jazz, rock, funk, soul, blues, hip hop and electronica, always utilizing a cast of players from a broad range of backgrounds.

Now, it's a Verdi mash-up. Othello is similarly dissected, analyzed, reshuffled and responded to, making an opera that could possibly possess appeal among the united front of opera-loathers. The expected schizophrenic changes ensue, quite like a lyrically marshmallowed John Zorn. Or like a house-trained Frank Zappa. Or even like a Hal Willner project from Beyondsville. This work debuted at the 2003 Venice Biennale and was mostly recorded two years later, aside from the odd overdubbed drop-in.

Caine seeks grandiloquent melodrama one moment, komic kapering vaudeville the next. He preserves the pomp, but also sets off the pearl necklace detonators at the soiree. His vocalists arrive from diverse zones: Bunny Sigler (Philly soul on the Met stage), Dhafer Youssef (taking Moorish flight), Sadiq Bey (rap-poetic toughness), Josefine Lindstrand (ethereal balladry), Marco Paolini (Italian theatricality) and Julie Patton (cooled narration). Musicians include Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Zach Danziger (drums), Joyce Hammann (violin), Nguyen Le (guitar), Tim Lefebvre (bass), Stefano Bassanese and Bruno Fabrizio Sorba (electronics), although several more are on-hand for guest appearances.

Prog posturing creams up against lounge soul, then Caine runs his pianistic rivers like Oscar Peterson, but the interleavings usually keep to separate songs rather than co-existing in a smeared slide of seamless development. Bey wins out in the voice battles, as wiry as Sigler is soft. The channel-hopping frenzy is tightly controlled, but emits an air of looseness and chaos. The only problem is that even admirers of tiny-attention-span event-packed sounds might get lost amidst this style-shuffling maximalist phantasmagoria. Each time something engaging happens, Caine is already traipsing off to the next highly-orchestrated collision. This is a work to be admired within the head, but it provokes a sense of coitus interruptus down below.

Track Listing: Othello's Victory; Fire Song; Drinking Song; Love Duet with Othello and Desdemona; Introduction to Act II; Iago's Credo; She's the only one I love; Iago's Web Desdemona's Lament; Am I a Fool?; The Lion of Venice; Othello's Confession; The Willow Song/Ave Maria; Murder; The Death of Othello.

Personnel: Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Stefano Bassanese: electronics; Sadiq Bey: voice; Jim Black: drums; Uri Caine: piano, keyboards; Zach Danziger; drums; Joyce Hammann: violin; John Hebert: acoustic bass; Nguyên Lê: guitar; Tim Lefebvre: acoustic and electric bass; Josefine Lindstrand: vocals; Marco Paolini: voice; Julie Patton: voice; Bunny Sigler: vocals; Brundo Fabrizio Sorba; electronics; Chris Speed: clarinet; Achille Succi: clarinet; Dhafer Youssef: vocals.

Title: The Othello Syndrome | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Winter & Winter

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