Winter & Winter
Steve Greenlee reviews Uri Caine's new piano trio set
With Uri Caine, you have to expect the unexpected. The jazz-adept keyboardist plays classical music and often blends it with electronics. He’s made albums of soul, funk, jazz-electronica and even porn music. You’d never expect Uri Caine to go and make a trio record with piano, upright bass and drums.
Which is probably why he’s done just that. Siren, with bassist John Hébert and drummer Ben Perowsky, is—hard to believe—Caine’s first studio album with a traditional jazz trio since 1999. But (again) don’t expect Bill Charlap or Bill Evans or even Keith Jarrett. Caine’s iconoclasm remains intact, though tempered a bit. If the format is more restrictive than what Caine is accustomed to, aesthetically the trio roams around, from taut, soulful cohesion and near-funk grooving to free improv and straight-up swing. In fact, on a few occasions, including “Free Lunch,” atonal rumblings manage to evolve into swing.
Siren is a joyously restless album. The three men seem to feel their way cerebrally through the unsettled foundation of the title track, until they dig into an ostinato that becomes the groove. “Smelly” plops down in a pile as the song begins; Caine plinks and plunks around the extreme registers (his arms surely outstretched), as Perowsky and Hébert leave space between beats and strum. Eleven of these dozens tunes are Caine’s own, but smack dab in the middle of the set he drops a standard, “On Green Dolphin Street,” and it is here that the trio is in full operational capacity, swinging as hard as anyone has ever swung on this tune. It makes you want a follow-up album of standards from this trio. Now that’s something you’d never expect.