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Uri Caine Ensemble: Plays Mozart

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Uri Caine’s take on the music of Mozart comes to the United States just a little too late to join the celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Wolfie’s birth in 2006. While the anniversary tributes were often dutiful and routine, Caine’s playful deconstructions and augmentations deliver tons of delightful surprises.

Caine sticks his inventions into structural breaks in the music-wide-ranging jazz improvisations replace developmental sections, and Mozart’s “Turkish Rondo” gains an introduction of actual Turkish-style music, giving an authentic shade to the melody. While playing Caine’s arrangements of Mozart, the ensemble skillfully embroiders the material; guitarist Nguyên Lê, for example, tweaks the bass lines in the second movement of the “Jupiter” symphony into bluesy fragments, while Chris Speed throws a little klezmer into the last movement of the “Clarinet Quintet.” DJ Olive contributes informative electronic effects throughout, while bassist Drew Gress and drummer Jim Black keep the the rhythm section tight and light.

Still, Mozart’s immortal melodies always shine through. When Caine plays “Piano Sonata in C Major (K. 545),” he quickly launches into blues harmonies and rhythmic distortions, but the luminous quality of his pianism makes the performance sound like one old friend ragging on another, affectionate and ultimately more respectful than rote reverence could have been.