Winter & Winter
Lacking the stunning conceptual audacity of watershed recordings like Urlicht/Primal Light and The Goldberg Variations, Uri Caine's Bedrock, Solitaire and Rio are relatively casual albums. But their simultaneous release implies they are companion discs to be heard in the aggregate. With each focusing on a genre or context, they can be likened to layers of Caine's polystylistic programs, peeled away to be heard in a more expansive forum. While each stand-alone volume has its own merits, hearing them in proximity gives a comparable composite picture of Caine's creative range, albeit one that takes three hours to absorb instead of one.
Bedrock pays homage to Herbie Hancock's role in articulating the tenets of old-school fusion, and its successive integration of funk and hip-hop. Hancock's transposition of his mid-'60s rhythmic and harmonic innovations onto the Fender Rhodes is central to the surge and dip that gave early fusion its avantish electricity. Time and again, Caine adroitly whips up the intensity with staccato chords, slashing single-note runs and jabbing octaves, then downshifts into a spacey, reverb-rich rubato. Each step along the way, bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Zach Danziger supply just the right mixture of close-order precision and tangential virtuosity. Still, Danziger's samples and DJ Logic's turntables tip the locus of the album as Downtown Now, elevating the album above a two-dimensional genre study.
Solitaire is a coruscating solo program that occasionally veers toward the Tatumesque dilemma of technical command concealing emotional projection. Caine's saving grace is that the bulk of his original compositions are built with nuance, wit and unsentimental ardor. Caine's incisive observations of human conditions are far more frequently reinforced by his erudite shifts in rhythmic feel and attack than they are obscured by his dazzling virtuosity. Few solo piano recordings of recent years convey the unfolding creative process as Solitaire. But it is not a perfect album; with "Blackbird," Caine confirms once again that Beatles tunes just don't make it in the jazz arena.
Caine's vision on Rio is of idyllic beaches dotted with beautiful girls, not a squalid, gang-infested city. Accordingly, the program is generally upbeat, an easy mix of samba and bossa nova. The breezy atmosphere is occasionally reinforced with ambient sounds, reminiscent of Winter & Winter's five-CD box set of Cuban music "field recordings," Cuadernos de la Habana. Playing both piano and Fender Rhodes, Caine is joined by a revolving cast of musicians, singers and drum choruses who consistently coax rhythmically vibrant performances from him. At slower tempi, Caine caresses the lyrical soul of Brazilian music with obvious affection. Rio is a virtual hour in the sun.