Live at the Village Vanguard
Winter & Winter
The arrival of the Uri Caine Trio's new album, Live at the Village Vanguard, may initially leave you a little flat. After all, Caine's made his name in part by taking on ever-more-diverse projects, but a lot of artists-heck, a lot of piano trios-have released albums with that title. And many of those albums found those trios jamming through a jazz classic, some standards and a few originals, just as the Caine Trio does here. Live at the Village Vanguard, however, shows that Caine can't help but make even the routine unpredictable.
This live recording captures (with excellent sound) the adrenaline that must have flowed at the show. You can hear it from the first track, Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," where bassist Drew Gress, drummer Ben Perowsky and Caine set a blistering pace and challenge each other to keep up; the invention flies high, with riveting solos from Gress and Perowsky, but never quite zooms out of control. The trio swings in classic style on Jimmy Van Heusen's "All the Way" and "I Thought About You" and Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," but Caine's volatile dynamics and mercurial melodicism, along with more fine solo work from his partners, ensure that the groove always stays surprising. Caine originals "Stiletto" and "Snaggletooth" deliver spiky rhythms that persist even as the trio pushes the tempo, while "Go Deep" and "Most Wanted" allow the trio to relax with gentle, elliptical melodies.
Two songs on the disc do travel further afield, though. One is a selection from Giuseppe Verdi's opera Otello; in Caine's arrangement, Gress and Perowsky set the dark, brooding mood and mark off the harmonic field long before the piano enters, while Caine occasionally strays from the anguished melody to amplify the pain. The other, an original titled "BushWack" and dedicated to our current president, starts with Caine riding roughshod over "Hail to the Chief" and ends only after a once-sprightly melody barely survives the chaos that engulfs it. In the end, though, everything on Live at the Village Vanguard pushes at piano-trio boundaries, even if sometimes in familiar guise, and succeeds brilliantly at doing it.