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The Classical Variations

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Album Review

Despite his excesses, pianist/arranger Uri Caine is a musician who commands admiration and respect. His experimentation hasn't always paid off; at times, Caine's work has been audacious for the sake of being audacious. But when you're evaluating a musician, you have to look at the big picture — and Caine's willingness to take risks has served him well more often than not. It generally serves him well on The Classical Variations, which finds Caine putting his orchestral jazz/classical spin on Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Sebastian Bach, and other Euro-classical icons. This 72-minute CD offers a combination of previously released recordings (which come from Caine albums that include Diabelli Variations, Love Fugue, and Uri Caine Plays Mozart) and previously released material. Because 11 of the 20 selections were previously released, The Classical Variations shouldn't be considered a best-of; instead, it is an album that uses both new and old recordings in service of the variations theme. And while some consumers might object to paying for a CD that isn't a true best-of yet only contains about 55 percent new material, The Classical Variations nonetheless has a lot going for it. Jazz and Euro-classical are the disc's primary influences, but Caine incorporates everything from Jewish klezmer to hip-hop. Some jazz snobs and classical snobs will cry foul, insisting that the influence of hip-hop has no place on an album that has anything to do with either jazz or classical. But then, Caine has never worried about offending purists of either the jazz variety or the classical variety — and even though The Classical Variations can be self-indulgent at times, the disc nonetheless gives listeners many reasons to think highly of his artistry.

The Classical Variations, Uri Caine Ensemble
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