Mahler: Urlicht - Primal Light
Uri Caine Ensemble, Uri Caine, Joey Baron, Aaron Bensoussan, Dave Binney, Danny Blume, Dean Bowman, Don Byron, Dave Douglas, Mark Feldman, Michael Formanek, Larry Gold, Arto Lindsay, DJ Olive & Josh Roseman
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Very few, if any, attempts to merge classical music and jazz have succeeded. Somehow, jazz pianist Uri Caine's masterful and magnificent interpretations of selected works of the 19th century classical composer Gustav Mahler work remarkably well. Of course, it does not hurt to work with a stellar ensemble, including trumpeter Dave Douglas, violinist Mark Feldman, clarinetist Don Byron, and drummer Joey Barron, and turntable spinner DJ Olive, among others. However, it is Caine's clever arrangements that take the cake. He does not simply "jazz up" Mahler, which would mock the greatness of his works. Instead, he worms himself inside the songs and harmonies and uses them as a starting point to create a related, but new, synthesis of his music. Jewish folk melodies, cantorial renditions, free jazz, and classical violin are all merged in a whole that transcends the parts.
Listen and you'll know
This is a truly great set of music: Improvisations on selected themes from Mahler's symphonies, all done with a sharp ear kept out for the Jewish-Klezmer tinge that has always been there, woven throughout the originals. It may be somewhat difficult for less sophisticated ears, like mine were when first encountering this music. But Caine and his collaborators have outdone themselves. From what I have read, when they first played this in front of a big-deal Mahler festival, the audience initially was not so thrilled. But by the time Caine & Co. had finished its set, the audience was up on its feet cheering, truly moved by what they'd heard. I admit, I was likewise, finding the music somewhat difficult to appreciate at first, but then, wham, on a second or third listen, it hit me, and how - during a descent into La Guardia airport, riding the Boston shuttle, in a moment that I will always remember. And ever since, this disk has been one of my absolute favorites. Indeed, it spurred me to go listen to Mahler Himself, and I'm glad it did.