REVIEW: Uri Caine Trio at Jazz & The City Festival in Salzburg

L-R: Uri Caine, Mark Helias, Clarence Penn


Uri Caine Trio
(Kavernen 1595, 21st October 2016. Jazz & The City Festival, Salzburg. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The onstage announcer before this concert by Uri Caine's trio started by telling us quite categorically what they were not going to play. It was not going to be a run-through of the fifteen short and contrasted compositions from the trio's latest album Calibrated Thickness (816 Records). That announcement might sound unhelpful, but in fact it set up the context very well indeed for a superb set. In the hands of a trio like this, we set off an unpredictable journey, and the introduction served as a reminder that the live experience is something different, unique, not-to-be-repeated. And  special.

Where Uri Caine excels is in maintaining a constant sense that the next move could take him and his fellow musicians just about anywhere. He has a deep knowledge of the jazz canon and of previous piano styles, but such references are merely points on the itinerary. So last night we dropped in to visit (properly- with time to pause and reflect) stride piano, Fats Waller' Honeysuckle Rose, Oscar Peterson, Round Midnight. There was also a fascinating free section near the beginning where Caine, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Clarence Penn were all three playing solistically, each with a different and contrasting pulse, creating a fascinating suspension, a game to see how long they would hold it, and who would break out of it first and lead the group into a concerted action. There are also the fascinating nods and references which Caine makes that flash past, as if tunes are witnessed from afar and then lost from view. There was just half a phrase from Time After Time, or a hook from Bye Bye Blackbird, and even a sudden, quickly discarded burst of 'The Ride of the Valkyries.'

We are a long way from head-solos-head here, and into something much more organic and intuitive and, perhaps above all,  free. The first collective improvisation was around half an hour - the time passed very quickly - and it came to an end in an unexpected way - particularly odd considering it was being recorded for radio transmission. An audience member made a particularly loud sniff over a quiet, passage close to silence, it raised a laugh in the audience, broke the mood. Caine made a virtue of it, however. He stopped, made a thumbs-up sign, accepted the applause and told the audience it had been a perfect ednding -  that the sniff had reminded him quite how much he hated Donald Trump.

The trio then played shorter selections, including Golem which is on the new album, and finished with an encore in the form of a doff of the cap to Salzburg's most famous son. Cane gave the opening of the Piano Sonata in C major ('Sonata semplice') K. 545 a taste of looseness and Loussier ("a little corny, I know," he quipped)

The Cavernen 1595 is a great venue and this was a completely nourishing experience. Caine completely engages the listener's heart, head and sense of humour. This was a gig which will stay in the mind.

LINKS: Review - Uri Caine meets Dave Douglas in Leeds
Review - Uri Caine Meets Mahler in Birmingham

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