Review: Jazz-infused classics at times discordant

By Peter Williams

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Uri Caine.
Uri Caine.

It's a new departure for Chamber Music New Zealand to have a jazz pianist present the opening concert for the new 2016 Kaleidoscope Series. Grammy-nominated New York jazz pianist Uri Caine comes to New Zealand with a glowing reputation where he mixes jazz with classics and is known for his collaborative role with a range of other notable musicians and ensembles.

As would be expected, Caine certainly has a relaxed manner of communication with the audience and certainly has astonishing facility on the keyboard - how many thousands of notes did he play in this concert? The programme featured improvisations on well-known piano pieces - Mozart's famous Sonata in C K545 and the Rondo Alla Turca and Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring for example, plus Renaissance music by Guesualdo and late Romantic music by Mahler, jazz by Scott Joplin, George Gershwin and Fats Waller, and Caine's original compositions such as Trump Blues with a nod to current US politics.

I am sure there were many in the audience who would have found much of the style of playing not to their liking.

Mozart and Beethoven were famed for their skill as keyboard improvisers, but I feel certain that their playing would have matched the style of the music being used. Not so with much of what was played on this programme. There were lovely moments of expressive playing in the Gesualdo madrigals and in the central part of the Mahler selection, but so much of the other music was unnecessarily harsh and uncompromising in tone and totally out of character with the style, such as in the Mozart Rondo Alla Turca and Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring.

There were plenty of highly original moments and sparkling rhythmic emphasis in the arrangements of Fats Waller's Honey Suckle Rose, the Beatles' tune Black Bird and Gershwin's I Got Rhythm, but I felt that the arrangement of Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag did not match the style of the well- known original arrangement.

The fine Steinway grand in the Century Theatre certainly took a pounding, particularly with the savagery of the final chord clusters. Often the sounds heard in this concert were a travesty of the wonderful sound such an instrument can produce.

Chamber Music New Zealand Concert
Jazz pianist Uri Caine
Century Theatre, Napier
Saturday, March 19
Reviewed by Peter Williams

- Hawkes Bay Today

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