Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 8 June 1956, Philadelphia) Pianist, composer, leader. Studied with legendary French-born pianist Bernard Peiffer (d '76), played while in high school with Philly Joe Jones, Hank Mobley etc; studied at U. of PA with George Rochberg and George Crumb and remained steeped in classical/orchestral music, continued gigging with Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Benny Golson etc, moved to NYC late '80s. In an era when all music had become repertory music he matured into a musician able to play with anybody: the big band of Terry Gibbs and Buddy DeFranco, the free jazz of Sam Rivers and Barry Altschul, the chamber music of Don Byron's Semaphore and Byron's more experimental groups, including klezmer: Caine joined the group put together by Byron to play the music of Mickey Katz, and toured with it. He has recorded with Clark Terry, Byron, Dave Douglas, Bobby Zankel and many others, as well as appearing at many jazz festivals, and when his own albums came along they were immediately noteworthy: Sphere Music '93 on Stephan Winter's JMT label (associated with Verve) was mostly a trio album, with Ralph Peterson on drums, Anthony Cox or Kenny Davis on bass, some tracks adding variously Byron or Gary Thomas on reeds, Graham Haynes on cornet; Toys '95 had a similar cast including Douglas on trumpet, Joshua Roseman on trombone, tracks ranging from duo to septet of tight, swinging, mostly original music, percussive yet lyrical.

Urlicht/Primal Light '96 was an astonishing surprise, on Winter's new Winter & Winter label, even the handsome cardboard packaging unique. Following Caine's arrangements of themes by Gustav Mahler to accompany the showing in NYC of Franz Winter's short silent film about Mahler, the album was made with Roseman, Byron, Douglas, Joey Baron on drums and several others including cantor Aaron Bensoussan singing Hebrew psalms to 'Farewell' (Abschied) from Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. The album won the Toblacher Komponierhauschen international prize for the best Mahler CD of '97. Wagner In Venice '97 was a live performance in the Piazza San Marco of Wagner's music, almost unbelievably and beautifully atmospheric. Blue Wail '97 was a trio album with Peterson and James Genus on bass: the CD opens and closes with Fats Waller's 'Honeysuckle Rose', the volatile trio interplay in between has Caine sneaking outside and back in so fast you're afraid to stop listening. The Sidewalks Of New York: Tin Pan Alley included street sounds. I Went Out This Morning Over The Countryside was two CDs of Mahler, extended arrangements of the material on the Urlicht/Primal Light album, recorded live at a Mahler festival '98. The Goldberg Variations and Love Fugue treated the music of Bach and Schumann respectively in 2000, the latter including vocalist Mark Ledford and poet Julie Patton; three albums released simultaneously in 2001 were Rio (recorded in Brazil with local percussionists and vocalists and street sounds), Bedrock (electric and funky) and Solitaire (just gorgeous solo piano). Diabelli 2003 explored Beethoven; Dark Flame 2004 was a treatment of Mahler Leider. The only CD not on Winter & Winter was Zohar Keter on Knitting Factory, with Sephardic/Morrocan singer Aaron Bensoussan and DJ Olive, a trio of guitar, bass and piano and samples gliding in and out.

Being an Uri Caine fan means never knowing what's going to happen next, and usually being enchanted by it. The two-CD Classical Variations on Winter & Winter contains 30 minutes of new music and 40 minutes of excerpts from earlier classical treatments. in 2014 came the premiere of an oratorio, The Passion of Octavius Catto, in ten short chapters, about a black civil rights worker who had fought for the right to fight in the Civil War, and was murdered in Philadelphia at the age of 32, during riots on election day in 1871. It is based on a biography, Tasting Freedom, by Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin; a recording was made in 2018 with a piano trio, soloist Barbara Walker, two choruses and The Catto Freedom Orchestra conducted by André Raphel. The CD on Winter & Winter is only half an hour long; reviewing it at Musicweb-International, Dominy Clements (also an opera composer) said his only complaint was that it should have been longer.