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Uri Caine: Shelf-Life

Track List

>SteakJacket Prelude
>Wolfowitz in Sheep's Clothing
>On the Shelf
>Darker Bionic Cue
>Strom's Theremin
>bE lOOse
>Watch Out!
>Shish Kabab Franklin

Album Remarks & Appraisals:

"If Uri Caine's first Bedrock album was a warning shot across the bow,Shelf-Life is an outright broadside. The keyboard player's 2001 trio record with drummer Zach Danziger and bassist Tim Lefebvre blended electric jazz with contemporary and neo-retro styles, heading adventurously into a no man's land of beats, jams, and freaky madness. This followup (a hefty seventy minutes' worth) is even more mixed up, aided in no small part by a guest list ten players long.

Depending on your personal tastes and breadth of exposure, the rapid and regular shifts in mood, style, and era on Shelf-Life may be energizing or disconcerting - probably a combination of the two. As for me, it all adds up to pure joy, in no small part due to the music's unpredictability. Caine, Danziger, and Lefebvre are not so reckless as to ever lose control, so individual tracks may wander a bit, but they never get lost. And that's absolutely key. Tightness is a virtue.

"Wolfowitz in Sheep's Clothing" digs into a stop-start funk groove driven by bass and drums and punctuated by wispy threads of trumpet (Ralph Alessi), electronically processed sounds, and keyboard vamps. Neither the rhythm nor the melody dwells in the realm of cliche, and none of it stays in one place for long. Compare the group's sound to the similarly configured Medeski, Martin and Wood, for example, and the difference is night and day: MMW is a jam band by formula; Bedrock is an alliance of three creative musicians who just so happen to hover in this particular zone for a few minutes before taking off elsewhere.

Regular retro trips look backward for inspiration. "Blakey" digs into '70s disco motifs (complete with heavy backbeat, trippy riffs, primitive-sounding keyboard tones, and congas), but layers of continuously evolving texture buoy it far above potential ruts. A similar track called "Sweat," one of two that feature vocals, closes out the album. "Strom's Theremin" sounds uncannily like a decades-old shuffle jam, and the spaceman effects on the monophonic keyboard leads refer directly to the era of synthesis (aka the dawn of the synthesizer).

Luke Vibert, who's probably most familiar to followers of electronic music by his Plug or Wagonchrist aliases, produces and programs three tracks. But they're not all minimalistic exercises in stacked beats, like Plug's late-'90s experiments, but fully fleshed out club bump-and-grinders.

Perhaps the most revealing thing about Shelf-Life is the fact that all the tracks fall in a radio-friendly two to six-minute range, never overstaying their welcome. All the self-conscious movement is going to keep most of this material off the airwaves - except for college stations - but the spirit of the music is true to the title. By extracting hipness from dinosaurs past and present, Bedrock's method ensures that this music will never grow old.

Visit Uri Caine on the web." -AllAboutJazz

"Some artists thread a consistent musical philosophy through everything they do, regardless of context, making it all part of a greater conceptual whole. Others are more chameleon-like, adapting seamlessly to the demands of the moment. Their very flexibility and malleability gives their music its central purpose. Still, in order to stand out, even the most versatile players need their own lens through which to filter such diversity.

Keyboardist Uri Caine is a chameleon. Since emerging on the New York scene in the early 1990s, he's played on projects led by clarinetist Don Byron ranging from the klezmer jazz of Plays the Music of Mickey Katz to the fusion/hip-hop mix of Nu Blaxploitation. He's been trumpeter Dave Douglas' keyboardist of choice on his Booker Little, Wayne Shorter, and Mary Lou Williams tributes, as well as Douglas' post-Miles fusion quintet, heard most recently on Strange Liberation. Caine's own projects have been even more unpredictable - from last year's relatively straightforward trio date, Live at the Village Vanguard, to a series of innovative contemporary adaptations of classical composers like Wagner, Mahler, and Bach.

And yet, despite his ability to mold himself into virtually any context, he plies a personal musical aesthetic to refract projects as seemingly straightforward as his Thelonious Monk (Sphere Music) and Herbie Hancock (Toys) tributes, making them more than mere homage. Like Douglas, Caine finds ways to make all music his own. Still, when he released three records within a few short months in 2001-02 (the Latin-inflected Rio, the solo piano Solitaire, and the hip-hop-informedBedrock), listeners were, not surprisingly, more than a little confused. Will the real Uri Caine please stand up?

Shelf-Life reconvenes the trio that recorded Bedrock, featuring bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Zach Danziger. It may not make any strides towards answering that core question, but it offers evidence that Caine's filtration of electronica, techno, drum-n-bass, and other contemporary conceits through his own quirky viewpoint was no one-off. If anything, the new disc stretches these elements even further. "Defenestration may be disco-samba, but Caine's seriously cheesy synthesizer tone and unbridled silliness make it one of a number of clear tongue-in-cheek moments on the disc.

Which isn't to say that there's not some serious music happening as well. The funk of "Wolfowitz in Sheep's Clothing and "On the Shelf echoes Headhunters and the up-tempo "Watch Out! pure soul, while "Oder sports a darker acoustic vibe, augmented by a pungent trumpet solo by Ralph Alessi. But throughout Shelf-Life - which also differentiates itself from Bedrock by guest appearances ranging from added instruments to programming and sonic reconstruction - there's a certain idiosyncratic, off-kilter feeling. The references may be readily discernable, but Caine's treatments are all his own.

Shelf-Life may not shed a whole lot of light on what Uri Caine is all about, but it's an engaging ride with visceral rhythms, multifarious textures, fine playing... and an appealing sense of the absurd." -AllAboutJazz

"Shelf-Life, Uri Caine's seventeenth release as a leader (his thirteenth for Winter & Winter) is a continuation of the pianist/composer's earlier collaborations with drummer Zach Danziger and bassist Tim Lefebvre, particularly 2002's Bedrock. A departure from his highly individualistic reworkings of classical composers such as Mahler, Wagner, Schumann, Bach, and Beethoven, this disc recalls the Philly soul of producers Gamble and Huff, leavened with gritty New Orleans funk, envelope filter and wah-wahed phase-shifting effects á la Boosty Collins, plus the electronic enhancements of mixmasters nnnj and DJ Olive.

The emphasis is on groove here, and Caine and Co. serve it up righteously, although some tracks ("Denefenstration, "Strom's Theremin and "Shish Kabob Franklin ) sound dangerously close to game show theme music or a porn movie soundtrack - a flirtation salvaged by the robust intelligence of Caine's improvisations.

Favoring the Rhodes Suitcase 88 electric piano, Caine also uses a variety of interesting synth patches to create background figures, horn lines and atmospheric effects; on "Blakey and "Shish Kabob Franklin he layers and counterpoises his solo with contrasting timbres to create conversations with himself. Danziger etches a deep groove throughout: he's busy but bad-ass on the slowly churning "Oder, over the speed-metal limit on "Steak Jacket, and plays first-rate second-line style on "Watch Out. Bassist Tim Lefebvre doubles on guitar with scratchy strumming and driving edge. Uri Caine's rampant eclecticism and boisterous humor may not resonate with jazz purists, but his talent and creativity are undeniable. Shelf-Life is plutonic house-jazz for the new millennium." -AllAboutJazz

Album Reviews:

JazzTimes (p.84) - "[T]he band's restless musical imagination spurs them to keep the funk ever-fresh....[It's] tough to stop listening to it."

Album Notes

Personnel: Uri Caine (keyboards); Uri Caine; Barbara Walker, Bunny Sigler (vocals); Tim Lefebvre (guitar, bass guitar); Ruben Gutierrez (clarinet); Robert "Bootsie" Barnes (saxophone); Ralph Alessi (trumpet); Arto Tuncboyaciyan (percussion); Luke Vibert (programming); Zach Danziger (drums, percussion).

Audio Mixers: Zach Danziger; Adrian von Ripka.

Recording information: Magic Shop; New York, NY.

Unknown Contributor Role: DJ Olive.

The trio of keyboardist Uri Caine, bassist/guitarist Tim Lefebvre, and drummer Zach Danziger creates very electronic, often funky, and completely unpredictable music on this eccentric set. Their wit is not absent ("Defensestration" is a strange satire of show music) and much of the set could be considered an extension on Miles Davis' bands of the 1970s, although it is not derivative. Beyond the core trio, the other musicians and singers generally only appear on one or two songs apiece. The emphasis is on Caine's trio, with ensembles that are often quite dense and sometimes overcrowded. This set takes a few listens to sort out, and it will either be loved or hated by jazz listeners, depending on their feelings toward electronic sounds. ~ Scott Yanow


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