Uri Caine Ensemble

Plays Mozart
Winter & Winter W&W 910 130-2

Truer to the spirit of Mozart than those by-rote recreations of the composer’s best-known works, with this notable CD pianist Uri Caine extends the improvisational spirit that would have been familiar to Mozart in the 18th Century. However he doesn’t lacquer the music with a facile swinging sheen.

Applying a blues/jazz sensibility to the instantly recognizable themes, Caine extends their essence without destroying melodies that literally define classical music. Similarly, his re-jigging includes not only the participation of expected instruments such as Ralph Alessi’s trumpet, Chris Speed’s clarinet, Joyce Hammann’s violin, and the bass of Drew Gress, but also Jim Black’s percussion collection, Nguyen Lê’s electric guitar distortions plus sampling from DJ Olive’s turntables.

Miraculously, rather than being disruptive the re-imagining confirms the adaptability of Mozart’s music. The usual strategy alternates familiar themes with unexpected variations, as if the adaptor is a film editor cutting rapidly among images. For instance, turntable crackle and reverberating guitar distortions introduce legato violin, heraldic trumpet and trilling clarinet unison in a theme from a sonata or symphony, which is then transformed with distorted guitar reverb.

“Turkish Rondo” returns to its roots, with the melody amplified by recorded samples of Turkish singers, ney-like twitters from Speed and dumbek rhythms from Black. Alternately, Caine’s tremolo cadenzas, Gress’ walking bass and Black metronomic pulse transform an aria from “Don Giovanni” into swinging hard bop before turntable warbles recap the initial melody.

These loving transformations should impress open-minded listeners of any genre.

— Ken Waxman