John Lewis 

Uri Caine Trio – review

The slightly overwritten material from Uri Caine's recent piano trio album came alive on stage, writes John Lewis
  
  

It may be the profession he states on his tax returns, but it comes as something of a surprise to discover that Uri Caine is a rather good jazz pianist. Most of his albums cast him as musical director for some wonderful but slightly gimmicky events: sometimes turning the tunes of Bach, Mahler and Mozart into tangos; taking us on voyages through early 20th-century New York vaudeville, or exploring the outer reaches of electronica on his Bedrock albums.

However, this gig sees him playing from his latest album, Siren, his first acoustic piano trio set in more than a decade. The album is afflicted by many of the traits common to contemporary jazz: it's overwritten, slightly cerebral and has few memorable tunes.

Tonight, though, it's transformed. Caine solos like a man who's constantly laughing – giggly little phrases at the top end are mixed with big, hearty, descending octaves. It's effective on songs such as Smelly – a woozy, bluesy cartoon theme constantly interrupted by fist-sized clusters of notes. Particularly impressive throughout is drummer Clarence Penn, who strokes and caresses his kit, never seeming to get any louder than a whisper, yet providing more than enough funk and swing.

As well as the originals, they throw in three standards: On Green Dolphin Street, I Thought About You and Autumn Leaves. They don't even fleetingly reference the melodies (someone should devise a smartphone app to help puzzled jazz fans work out what standard is being mutilated), but, watching Caine and his trio ruminate on their chord changes while masterfully mutating rhythms, you feel you'd like to hear him do an entire set of standards.