AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Uri Caine Ensemble – Rhapsody in Blue (Winter & Winter)

Uri Caine
Cover of Uri Caine

Uri Caine´s improbable streak of strokes of genius in posthumous collaboration with the great composers of modern Western music (Mahler, Bach, Schubert) finally comes home to New York, picking up George Gershwin and a few other immigrant lads while passing through Ellis Island. After Woody Allen´s “Manhattan”, it seemed impossible to ever hear Rhapsody in Blue without picturing its opening credits, but after that swooping clarinet intro, the ensemble´s rib-tickling rinky-tink freestyling proves it can be forgotten. Caine drags it down to the Bowery, through the garment district, uptown for drinks and dancing, takes it to a Broadway show and buys it a Nathan´s hot dog. Bobbing and weaving with Chris Speed´s clarinet, Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Joyce Hammann on violin to the tattoo of a seemingly eight-armed Jim Black, Caine´s streetview New York is elegant, sweaty, sentimental, Puerto Rican, kleztastic, and “interested in your soul”, to quote a period poem by Langston Hughes.

But he´s just getting wound up. He launches into a fanciful revisit of the Gershwin songbook, together with singers Theo Bleckmann and Barbara Walker, so we can also revel in the clever lyrics of brother Ira. Bleckmann and Walker´s “Let´s Call the Whole Thing Off” has that screwball comedy banter and “I´ve Got a Crush on You”, where bassist Mark Hellas, a star in these more intimate settings, particularly lifts. Someone slipped the jumpy juice into Bleckmann´s drink for “They Can´t Take That Away from Me”, a stammering abomination that many will just love. After the ensemble seesaws between smooth and cyclonic, Caine rounds off alone, with a blue, don´t-let-the-bastards-keep-you-down “How Long Has This Been Going On”.

Nice inner sleeve photo portrait by Carl van Vechten, patron of the Harlem Renaissance, to which Gershwin owes so much.

Stephen Fruitman

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