Thursday, April 08, 2010
Reviewed by: Tim Owen
Bedrock are a group led by pianist Uri Caine and this new album is, in the best possible way, all over the place
It’s good to hear another group effort led by the New York based pianist Uri Caine, who first came to my attention as a collaborator with Don Byron in the 80s. Albums like the Live at Village Vanguard (2004), with Drew Gress and Ben Perowsky, have been the exception rather than the rule in Caine’s discography, being as they are outnumbered by radical, non-idiomatic interpretations of classical compositions by Mahler, Bach and Beethoven.
On Plastic Temptation Caine plays acoustic but mostly electric piano, notably Fender Rhodes. Whereas on previous jazz-centric dates Caine has explored the legacy of Herbie Hancock’s 50s and 60s acoustic recordings, Bedrock furthers the Fender Rhodes-drenched sounds of Hancock’s later Mwandishi and, more pertinently, Headhunters groups.
Plastic Temptation covers an almost bewildering array of stylistic approaches, and in this respect the album is closer in effect to his take on Bach’s Goldberg Variations than to an early work such as Toys (2005, JMT), which was squarely in the contemporary jazz tradition. This new album is, in the best possible way, all over the place, from the driving techno-funk of “Riled Up” to the soulful “Till You Come Back to Me”. The latter is one of three songs with lyrics and vocals by Barbara Walker, whose powerful cameos are instantly recognizable from her features on Goldberg. One of the most consistent threads here is groove; this album would make great party music. The rhythm section of bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Zach Danziger presumably contribute more than rhythm, as they have contributed to previous Caine recordings (e.g. Goldberg, again) as production unit Boomish. It sounds like Danziger at least chips in here with assorted electronics and treatments. There’s also percussion by Elizabeth Pupo-Walker of Tuataro, a group fronted by Peter Buck of REM, though there’s so much going on it’s hard to isolate her contributions.
On first impressions the sometimes frenetic overload of this album might be alienating, and I admit to an initial knee-jerk reaction that Plastic Temptation just, somehow, didn’t seem serious enough. Needless to say Caine’s keyboard skills are, pace Val Wilmer, “as serious as your life”; it’s just that in the company of Lefebvre and Danziger he has too much fun rummaging through influences and the possibilities of kit, mixing and matching, trying things on, to be overly concerned about how cool they might sound. If you need convincing listen to the title track: at the core of the album, it’s as tight, exciting and atmospheric as anything on Headhunters, without ever lapsing into pastiche, it’s too fired up on inspiration for that.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.