All Around the Town

Uri Caine at the Turn of Another Century

The first-rate band included trumpeter Ralph Alessi, who played a dynamic lead, and Greg Tardy, who demonstrated an unexpected panache for raggy clarinet wailing. Violinist Joyce Hammann filled out the front line, supported by banjoist David Gilmore, bassist Steve Beskrone, drummer Ben Perowsky, and Caine, with occasional accordion respites by Ted Reichman. A few different pieces were added to the mix, including "A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," a whopping "Ballin' the Jack," and an unfortunate ringer, "I'm Gonna Move on the Outskirts of Town," which was written more than 20 years after the others and didn't belong, even if Walker's growls and Tardy's heavy metal clarinet seared it nicely. By contrast, Walker's "Some of These Days" exulted in blues-diva authenticity even more splendidly than on the record. More disillusioning was Caine's decision to modernize his solo numbers; he played a decent "Charleston Rag" on the album, but in concert elected to upend "Maple Leaf Rag" with dissonant chords and bass-clef clusters, sacrificing period feeling for anarchic spontaneity, not a good trade.

Reverence and humor are compatible.
photo: Andrew Portnoy
Reverence and humor are compatible.

The taped street sounds were effective and helped tie the numbers together. Less successful were the tuning-up interludes, which suggested an abrupt switch from one genre to the next, as though we were being whisked from studio to studio as a succession of bands prepared for the ensuing songs. Some of those passages went on too long; I shudder to think that I've misread the intention and that all that noodling was supposed to represent an avant-garde commentary on the last century. A more insistent attempt to spike the sentiment occurred during a closing sing-along of "Sidewalks of New York," which devolved into Art Ensemble of Chicago discursiveness before returning to the world of New York Dixieland. Most of the audience was too shy to sing, which was just as well. Still, one had to wonder if Caine's distancing effects didn't vitiate a powerful feeling of longing and community that subsisted just below the surface of the concert and proudly skims the waves on the album. This is a work that deserves more live performances. Its possibilities are limitless. But when in doubt, Caine might revisit the 1999 disc and go with his feelings.

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