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The Goldberg Variations

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Album Review

In the 21st century, it's easy to take technology for granted and forget that in the time of Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685, d. 1750), there were no cars, busses, airplanes, TVs, radios, movies, tape recorders, electric lights, or computers. People used candles to light their homes, and horses were the fastest way to get around. There were excellent plays and opinionated theater critics to review them, but no cameras to film the actors and actresses. Recording technology had yet to be invented, so the only way to hear classical musicians was to hear them performing live. Although the classical artists of Bach's time could not be recorded, they left behind their compositions, and today's classical musicians continue to keep them alive. There is most certainly a need for classical traditionalists, who give us the opportunity to hear exactly what Bach wrote. But there is also a place for risk-takers who interpret Bach's pieces instead of playing them note for note. Uri Caine is such a risk-taker, and this two-CD set finds the Philadelphia-born pianist taking more than his share of liberties with Bach's "Goldberg Variations." Hardly a classical purist, Caine combines Bach's music with a variety of jazz styles (everything from hard bop to Dixieland to bossa nova) as well as gospel, ragtime, salsa, tango, and traditional Jewish music. Occasionally, this double-CD comes across as iconoclasm for the sake of iconoclasm; things become forced and unnatural when Caine employs DJs and unsuccessfully tries to convince us that hip-hop, electronica, and rave music can be relevant to Bach. But most of the time, his experimentation pays off handsomely. Goldberg Variations isn't for everyone; classical purists, in fact, will want to avoid it. But those who have very eclectic tastes in music will find that this 1999/2000 project, although not perfect, is highly imaginative and even fascinating.

The Goldberg Variations, Uri Caine Ensemble
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