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Uri Caine: The Classical Variations

Although it highlights Uri Caine’s offbeat projects dating back to 1997, The Classical Variations is not a best-of. Eleven of the 20 tracks are previously unreleased, and the disc has its own sequential integrity. If the pianist’s deconstructions of Mahler, Wagner, Schumann, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart were pan-stylistic salads, The Classical Variations is a meta-salad, involving all these undertakings and more. “Desdemona’s Lament,” a ballad featuring vocalist Josefine Lindstrand and jazz quartet, is a sneak peek at Othello Syndrome, Caine’s forthcoming Verdi treatment. There are three pieces from Love Fugue (the Schumann album), two from Diabelli Variations and two from Caine’s copious Mahler catalog. Erik Friedlander’s cello and Dominic Cortese’s accordion illuminate “Prelude (Tristan und Isolde)” from Wagner in Venezia, which segues radically-not everyone’s cup of tea-into “The Scratch Variation,” one of two Bach-derived snippets by DJ Logic.

In the unreleased material, alongside the hip-hop, we hear the intimacy of period instruments: two new Goldberg Variations for fortepiano and viola de gamba quartet, and two more pairing lutenist Michael Freimuth, first with Don Byron on clarinet and later with Cordula Breuer on soprano recorder. We also get Caine’s solo piano blowout on “The Fats Variation,” as well as the hot jazz of “Midnight Variation,” featuring the likes of Greg Osby and Ralph Alessi. But if one thing captures Caine’s melding of European concert tradition and black vernacular strains, it’s the acappella “Only Love Beauty,” after Mahler, laying Barbara Walker’s gospel flourishes over a lush choral background.

Originally Published