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Uri Caine – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

An amiably rumpled man of about 60 strolls casually onto the Howard Assembly Room stage, sits down at the Steinway grand and launches into Honeysuckle Rose, a playful deconstruction full of wit, swing and dynamic contrasts. Neatly half an hour later he gets up from the piano, having taken us on a journey through his musical imagination, his own melodic ideas and often elaborate links rubbing shoulders with a medley of phrases that light on a tune, then skip lightly on to another. Do we get a hint of Yesterdays and Blue Prelude? Probably. Round Midnight? Just a hint. Some Enchanted Evening? Doubtful. Eventually, he settles on a Mozart sonata, relentlessly syncopated, but with the trills immaculately in place.

This is Uri Caine, a man clearly in love with the piano and what it can achieve. His set at the Howard Assembly Room was, in turn, exhilarating, powerful and just sheer fun. His reputation is partly built on his treatment of classical piano music, both played straight and given a jazz context, and his Leeds concert was remarkable, among other things, for his ability to merge classical, popular and jazz elements in a seamless whole. His second extended improvisation was largely based on Bach’s sublime Passion Chorale, played at times with a delicacy that belied the ferocity of Caine’s pianistics elsewhere, but it was Bach with hints of Paul Simon’s moving American Tune – and, lest we get too solemn, it was all rounded off with a “That’s All Folks” tag. 

Mozart returned with his Rondo alla Turca, another witty deconstruction, with the Passion Chorale and Paul McCartney’s Blackbird nudging their way in. Caine encored with a delicate, wryly whimsical Autumn Leaves before, sneaking an extra couple of minutes after closing time, he pared all down with a soulful Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

In a remarkable and oddly uplifting performance, Uri Caine played the whole of the piano: literally, from insistent repeated notes at the absolute top to powerful two-handed growling in the lowest bass, but also metaphorically. At one moment he was bringing stylish precision to Mozart or Bach, the next he was chording with the flat of his hand while attacking a blues.

The Revival Room proved an interesting choice as support act, an organ trio that, at least on the evidence of a fairly short set, abandons the elements traditionally associated with organ trios: no meaty ballads or hefty blues. Instead, there were plenty of ingenious originals, opening with a unison melodic line that suggested the trumpet and sax of bebop (this time, Adam Fairhall on organ and Mark Hanslip on tenor sax) while Johnny Hunter’s smart drumming created an alternative rhythm. Melody came rather late to the set, with Carla Bley’s Ida Lupino well played by Hanslip, all freakish effects put to one side.

Reviewed on 2 November 2017 | Image: Bill Douthart

Reviewer: Ron Simpson An amiably rumpled man of about 60 strolls casually onto the Howard Assembly Room stage, sits down at the Steinway grand and launches into Honeysuckle Rose, a playful deconstruction full of wit, swing and dynamic contrasts. Neatly half an hour later he gets up from the piano, having taken us on a journey through his musical imagination, his own melodic ideas and often elaborate links rubbing shoulders with a medley of phrases that light on a tune, then skip lightly on to another. Do we get a hint of Yesterdays and Blue Prelude? Probably. Round Midnight? Just…

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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