Recorded in 2012
live to analog two track
Uri Caine has spent the past 15 years creating intriguing post-modern variants on works by, among others, Bach, Wagner and Mahler, provides a new take on tunes by early jazz-classical crossover icon George Gershwin on Rhapsody in Blue.
Although it features only three string players – Caine, bassist Mark Helias and violinist Joyce Hammon – this stripped-down six musician –reedist Chris Speed, trumpeter Ralph Alessi and drummer Jim Black are the others –plus two vocalist (Theo Bleckmann, Barbara Walker) complement his take on familiar Gershwin’s compositions.
Vocalists provide novel song interpretations, especially on a deconstructed “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” where yodelling and burbling is harmonized with trumpet triplets and percussion slaps.
But it’s the title track which is the albumss showpiece. Featuring an ensemble one-quarter the size of Paul Whitman’s band which premiered the concerto in 1924, not only do Caine & company provide a sophisticated jazz sensibility, but his 22½-minute arrangement augments hitherto unexplored nuances in Gershwin’s score. Capturing the famous introductory glissandi, Speed’s clarinet tone includes Klezmer inflections while Alessi’s later call-and-response with the clarinetist adds Latinesque echoes and genuine emotion to the program.
At one point when the trumpeter’s apex of excitedly modulated tones is coupled with pseudo-stride piano, it suggests how much more interesting “Rhapsody in Blue” might have been if initially performed by Louis Armstrong and James P. Johnson. True to the score, especially during Hammon’s violin parts, the sextet reaches an appropriately exciting climax at the 20 minute mark as Black’s thoroughly modern rollicking swing spurs the soloists. By the conclusion, as the underlying beat turns to a witty march rhythm, the theme is extended with jabbing keyboard lines.
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