Old Jazz Hand

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Downtown New York City players are known for combining world-class musicianship with avant-garde extremism. Yet even in such company, pianist Uri Caine stands apart. The Classical Variations, his latest CD in a respected discography of nearly two dozen recordings, collects some of his best recent work reimagining and jazz-riffing on well-known compositions by giants of the genre: Mozart, Mahler, Wagner, Verdi, Schumann, Beethoven, and Bach. "The Scratch Variation," a DJ-twisted upending of Bach, and its rollicking stride-piano counterpart, "The Fats Variation," are genius: fluid, groove-rich, and somehow both contemporary and timeless. "Turkish Rondo," a popular Mozart theme from "Piano Sonata (K. 331) in A-Major," is another standout. Under Caine's direction, Arabic singing (lifted by turntablist DJ Olive) and desert-style drumming recontextualize the melody as it's played straight and then improvised on clarinet, electric guitar, and trumpet. Tonight, Uri Caine and Friends will apply the opposite approach to Hungarian folk music. Rather than updating Béla Bartók’s famous folksong-inspired themes to underscore their ethnic foundation, the pianist is going directly to the source — Bartók's own field recordings — to create new compositions, which aim to blend the spirit of the old and the new with classical, jazz, and folk music in unprecedented ways. (Caine also plays a free solo show on Feb. 15; see www.sfcmc.org.)
Sat., Feb. 16, 8 p.m., 2008

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