Caine/Gershwin CD

Rhapsody In Blue

(Winter & Winter/Birdland)Caine Rhapsody res

Uri Caine has an imagination that could fire up a flat car battery. It arcs between the most improbable musical associations, not only infusing them with new life, but making it implausible that they could have existed in any other guise.

Here the American pianist excavates deep beneath the skin of George Gershwin, without that wretched “Look at me!” cry that some of our theatre directors invoke in vulgarising a classic. The crucial difference is that Caine has the best interests of Gershwin’s art at heart. You sense the deep respect and deeper affection even as he tinkers. With Rhapsody in Blue, for instance, he oscillates between keeping the score intact and refracting it through an aural kaleidoscope, whether via improvised variations or tossing the score around his little band.

And what a band. Caine’s fizzing piano is joined by Ralph Alessi’s trumpet, Jim Black’s drums, Mark Helias’s bass and Chris Speed’s clarinet and tenor saxophone. Further expanding the options is go-anywhere singer Theo Bleckmann, who offers a sweet-and-slightly-sour But Not For Me and a sighing I’ve Got A Crush On You. He is joined by the wonderful Barbara Walker in a charming duet on Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off, and concocts a more radical They Can’t Take That Away From Me, which fragments into a hundred vocal shards and miraculously reassembles itself.