Thursday, May 30, 2019

[2] Uri Caine Trio at The Stone @ Mannes | #1Summer50Concerts

WHO: Uri Caine Trio (Uri Caine, piano; Mark Helias, bass; Ben Perowsky, drums)
WHERE: The Stone at The New School
WHEN: May 29, 2019, 8:30pm

I only decided I was going to this concert about 2 hours before it actually started. And I was almost late because I spent too long looking for the nonexistent lunchbox section at TJ Maxx.

Ah, the joys of adulting.

Admittedly, I didn't know a ton about Uri Caine before showing up to his concert last night. I knew was a pianist, and that he had done a jazz Mahler album that I've been meaning to listen to for years, and that was about it. I don't know why his week-long residency at Mannes didn't get more press -- the audience was maybe half full, only about 30 people. But that didn't stop the trio from taking the audience on an adventure to remember.

After sitting down at their instruments, the players began to noodle around, as is common for the first minute or two of a jazz set. But they kept noodling longer than that until eventually Perowsky began to play in something resembling a steady four-beat, seemingly on the fly. The other two adjusted their fooling around slowly, almost imperceptibly, until eventually the entire trio was synced. It was the kind of thing that leaves the audience with jaws on the ground; I know I was in total awe.

*applause* "Quick, take a photo, my phone is dead!" *band starts to pack up* "What, now?" "Yes!" *fumbling with phone*  -- an actual conversation my date and I had yesterday

The word that pops to mind when describing the trio is deft. Their entire set was full of tact and panache, and each player performed to his fullest without detracting from the others. Even at times when the music entered a "free" state similar to the opening of the set, it seemed like the players were aware of each others' improvisations -- perhaps that explains how they always found a common beat after a few seconds, even though Caine's gaze was glued to his hands and Helias never once opened his eyes.

Caine's improvised riffs very much evoked his career as a classical composer; though I didn't know he was classically trained when I saw him, there were a few moments where I turned to my date and mouthed "Debussy? Stravinsky? Messiaen?" and she smiled and nodded in corroboration. A disciple of George Crumb, Caine's claims to fame are his reworkings of classical music: not just Mahler, but Wagner, Schumann, Mozart, and even Bach's Goldberg Variations. One riff in particular from last night's concert evoked a dreaded piano solo from Stravinsky's Petrushka.

Helias's bass lines were creatively realized, if a bit stodgy. He, unlike many jazz bassists, was equally apt with a bow as pizzicato -- his bowed walking bass was refreshing. Perowsky left no timbre unexplored on his kit, from the side of the crash cymbal to the stands of his drums. His wrists alone were something to write home about; when he wanted a crash, but not too loud, he would tense his wrist completely and essentially push the cymbal down with his stick, muffling the sound just enough.

They played for an hour without stopping. The lines between actual charts and improvised filler material were blurry; that being said, the charts ranged from up-tempo rock-with-jazz-chords-sounding romps to the usual swing patterns. The final minute consisted of a series of dominant-tonic progressions -- literally V-I-V-I etc. -- but each time he played it he added more notes until he ended up with cluster-cluster-cluster-cluster. Take that, Mozart.

If you get a chance to see Uri Caine and any cohort of his, you should jump on that opportunity. His music has charisma and charm; it's nouveau-jazz without being inaccessible. And now that I've bought a lunchbox as well, my life is complete -- except for the fact that I forgot to bring it (with my lunch inside) to work today. Sigh.

The trim matches my backpack!

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