Jazz pianist Uri Caine brings his considerable and eclectic talents as an arranger to a wide variety of classical pieces, guaranteed to drive purists away screaming, but with the potential to delight listeners attentive to beauty in juxtapositions that on their surface might seem ridiculous. While a few of the pieces come off relatively close in notes and spirit to the composers' original intentions, others are so radically skewed as to be nearly unrecognizable, but even in the most extreme cases, Caine's machinations can shed surprisingly insightful light on the pieces. Caine is an experienced hand at bringing a different perspective to the classical repertoire; he has devoted whole discs to J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Wagner, and two to Mahler. Most but not all the tracks on this album come from these earlier releases.
The reason so many of the tracks are successful is that Caine doesn't just jazz up the originals by throwing in some funky jazz-like harmonies and rhythms, but he applies the principle of improvisation in the broadest sense, letting us hear the older music in fresh ways. In several of the tracks, that means adding new layers of sounds; over a choral arrangement of a Mahler song, he floats a gospel soloist, improvising entirely new but complementary material using the English translation of the text. He arranges two of the variations from Bach's Goldberg Variations for fortepiano and viola de gamba quartet. The quartet plays the Bach more or less straightforwardly, while the fortepiano, which could easily pass for a player piano, encircles it with impossibly fast ornamentation that sounds for all the world like Nancarrow. Not all the tracks are equally persuasive, but the best open the music in unexpected and marvelous ways. The performances, by musicians like the orchestra Concerto Ko"ln, violinist Mark Feldman, and turntablist DJ Logic, are above reproach. The engineering is exemplary; the sound is clean and spacious, but intimate enough that every crackle of the LPs he uses on some tracks is audible.
All Music Guide
The Classical Variations (JAZZLOFT Review)
In October 2007, Uri Caine receives the "Echo Klassik", the most significant award in the German music world. At the nationwide ZDF television gala show "Echo der Stars" hosted by the actress Maria Furtw?ngler - granddaughter of the conductor Wilhelm Furtw?ngler - Uri Caine and his Ensemble perform the Turkish Rondo after Mozart. In other years artists like Sir Simon Rattle, Rolando Villaz?n, Cecilia Bartoli, Montserrat Caball?, Lord Yehudi Menuhin, Vesselina Kasarova, Jos? Carreras, Isaac Stern, Giora Feidman, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Anna Netrebko, Daniel Barenboim and Nigel Kennedy have been award winners.
In the last decade no other artist has influenced the development of the classical music and the jazz scene in such an important way as Uri Caine. His adaptions and re-compositions of classical works found enthusiastic acceptance worldwide. Uri Caine is celebrated for these eclectic and inventive interpretations. In recognition of this Uri Caine receives the "Echo Klassik". Winter & Winter took this wonderful occasion to produce a special album with the title Uri Caine "The Classical Variations" featuring previously unreleased music after Bach, Mahler and Verdi and already renowned recordings after Beethoven, Schumann, Mahler and Wagner.
The opening track "Only Love Beauty" after "Liebst du um Sch?nheit" from the R?ckertlieder by Gustav Mahler is a special new a cappella recording by Barbara Walker and the Kettwiger Bach Ensemble produced in Krefeld during Uri Caine's rehearsals of the 3rd Symphony after Gustav Mahler. It has been the wish of Uri Caine to make that excellent performance available to the public. The album "The Classical Variations" gives Caine not only the possibilty to release that previously unreleased track but also to introduce various new compositions written after Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations. Track 4 and track 18 present Uri Caine and Vittorio Ghielmi's viola da gamba quartet with a totally new version of the variation number X and XXII. Also "The Midnight Variation" featuring the Uri Caine Ensemble and Greg Osby and "The Brass and Drums Variation" featuring Ralph Alessi, Josh Roseman and Bob Stewart are new productions recorded in New York. Caine's piano solo "The Fats Variation" is a dedication to Fats Waller. Caine has also written for the jazz clarinet player Don Byron and the classical lutist Michael Freimuth, a new duet to connect the very personal styles of these two extraordinary solists. And the classical recorder player Cordula Breuer and lutist Michael Freimuth perform a new classical compositions by Uri Caine after Bach, besides various new eletronic sound sculptures by DJ Logic. In 2007 the young Swedish vocalist Josefine Lindstrand recorded Caine's "Desdemona's Lament" in Rome. This song is part of Uri Caine's "Othello Syndrome", a new adaption of Verdi's "Otello" which was premiered at the Biennale in Venice. Besides these new works Caine selected some of his favorite works to complete this album "The Classical Variations".
Andrew McGregor wrote in 2007 (BBC Clasical review) about Uri Caine's Diabelli Variations: "Don't waste your time reading this review: beg, borrow or buy a copy of this life-enhancing disc as soon as possible. You could be getting an online record shop to post it to you right now, so what are you waiting for? What, you want to know what exactly Uri Caine's done to the Diabelli Variations? That's the problem, you see; it's very hard to describe, and if I'm successful it'll spoil the element of surprise that's such a delicious part of hearing this CD for the first time. Alright, introductions first. Uri Caine's a pianist who trained classically in Philadelphia while playing jazz at night just round the corner from the university campus. He's able to move between and join together the two worlds more successfully than most performers, and always with intriguing results...as you'll know if you've already come across Caine's re-readings of Mahler, Schumann songs, Italian caf?-style Wagner, or Bach's Goldberg Variations. With the Diabellis, says Caine, he's looked very closely at how Beethoven was parodying the original (rather dull!) theme...then made his own parody of the parody.
It's brilliant: illuminating, fascinating, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Unlike in his Goldbergs, Caine sticks pretty closely to the original Beethoven Variations... at least the orchestra does, while Caine comments and quips in penetrating interjections and witty asides from his fortepiano. Yes, I did say orchestra: Concerto K?ln, for the period-instrument equivalent of a jazzers big-band arrangement. You'll have fun spotting the other bits of Beethoven (and Bach) Caine manages to weave into the texture, and the packaging is almost as enjoyable as the contents -I'll leave you to discover it for yourself.
If you don't come away from the whole experience with a grin a mile wide, and wanting to hear the original Beethoven again, then there's probably no hope for you. Not for purists. No, wait: it should be mandatory for purists.
Uri Caine and Stefan Winter have produced 17 albums in the last 15 years. "The Classical Variations" presents the quintessence of these works including two brilliant variation after Beethoven's Diabelli.