Uri Caine Trio, Vortex, London

Too many flavours spoil the stew
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The Independent Culture

Uri Caine is nothing if not eclectic. Unfortunately, nothing would have been preferable at times during his gig last Monday. There's no doubt that he's a talented pianist, and a master of many different styles. His current crop of CDs bears witness to his various interests: one is a solo album à la Keith Jarrett, another a Brazilian percussion-fest, and the third an M-Base-y trio. Caine has also got to grips with Bach (not that unusual, of course) and even Mahler in the past.

But most of us prefer to keep starter, main course and pudding separate. Caine mash-ed all together with an unabashed enthusiasm that produced a messy slop, though the occasional mouthful tasted delicious. One soupçon that worked was when his trio swooped from Nineties drum'n'bass to Fifties swing in the space of a few bars during "Green Dolphin Street"; this was amusing and gracefully executed. Throughout much of the evening, however, Caine, with his sausage legs barely squeezing under the piano, was like a tubby boy swaying unsteadily in a room piled high with boxes. For a moment he'd stay upright, taking a few steps in a straight line. But, before long, his sense of balance would go wonky and he'd knock against the furniture.

Tantalisingly short passages of gorgeous harmony (he's clearly very well versed in all the lyricism that Jarrett and Bill Evans bring to their playing) would be broken by jagged chords, often thumped out, sometimes brushed with the palm in clumsy clusters. My companion for the evening, a highly-rated pianist, thought that he played like this because he couldn't play more tidily. His solo album proves that he can – he just didn't want to that evening.

Caine's bass player, Drew Gress, did an impressive job of keeping the trio firmly rooted. He has a nice, spongy depth to his sound and a firm attack. Gress was far more responsible for keeping things ticking over than Ben Perowsky on drums. I could hear him stopping and starting different rhythms in an irritatingly random manner around his kit, but a visual description is necessarily limited. Due to the inefficient booking policy at the Vortex, I had to stand all evening and could only see Perowsky through a russet gauze of frizzy hair belonging to the woman in front of me.

Lest it sound like an utter disaster, the trio did have its good points. They played a convincing slow rock version of "'Round Midnight", a tune that doesn't stand being mucked around much. And when they suddenly switched from one style to another mid-number, they did so with a tightness that belied the chaos either side of the break. There was a river of swing flowing underneath Monday's performance. Sadly, it was obscured by the craggy ice floes jostling on the surface.

The Uri Caine Trio tours the UK and Ireland until 13 December 2001

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