Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day 54: Uri Caine Ensemble "Wagner E Venezia" & Leo Kottke "One Guitar, No Vocals"

Today actually represents two very different artists that I became aware of solely through random promos that I subsequently became huge fans of. One of the CDs isn't even a promo, I bought the CD and was happy to do it. Today is an awesome day, which probably means I won't really write much. We'll see.

Uri Caine Ensemble
Wagner E Venezia

I've made a few halted, insufficient attempts to describe Uri Caine in previous posts and I still don't really know how to do him justice. I'm stoked that there are MP3 downloads from Amazon for this album because when my words fail at least those of you without adblock can hear samples. But even then, thirty second snippets won't really do since his music really builds on itself and you have to give it time to accumulate.

In fact, that's exactly what he does here on this live album. The CD opens with the sounds of the crowd talking amongst themselves, that pre-concert chatter in the foreground. Faintly, you can hear the sounds of violins tuning up, or so it seems, until they come together in a nearly imperceptible isn't until the 'song' is over a minute and half in before the audience realizes the show has started.

Caine has an almost 'will it blend' approach to re-imagining music. You find yourself kind of playing 'spot the influence' as his arrangements jump from one to another. One minute you're listening to a straight forward rendition of Tristan and Isolde and then, and you're not always sure when this happened, there's an accordian in there somewhere. In the end you've walked from classical through klezmer, a few forms of eastern and western European folk, and progressive jazz and you have no idea how you got to any of it but it all fit together seamlessly.

I was hoping wiki could help me out here but all it really did is tell me he is from Philly (I seriously assumed he was from eastern Europe somewhere, nope, born in Philly lives in New York) and that I have eight other albums I need to seek out. As it is, I have his acclaimed Mahler album, this Wagner one I thought I had put on the drive but hadn't, a Mozart album I'm really hoping still exists somewhere, and Primal Light. The Mahler and Primal Light had already made it on to the hard drive.

I stumbled on Caine through a Winter & Winter sampler that had some absolutely amazing stuff on it. It's also where I discovered Big Satan and a few others with less catchy names. It more or less established that if that tell tale corduroy cover indicating Winter & Winter was there, what was inside was awesome. Unfortunately this didn't translate into sales and Winter & Winter went through a small distributor if I remember correctly, so I didn't really get a lot of promos, so I would end up ordering them for the store and then buying them myself.

Compared to some of the more elaborate take offs on the Mahler album, these interpretations are relatively tame. Relative, of course, only to Caine himself.

It takes a special composer and performer to make the accordion awesome.

How do you top ending a piece with the ringing of nearby church bells? By doing a Uri Caine version of Ride of the far with accordion and pizzicato strings and a hint of Sorcerers Apprentice. He's doing it as kind of a bounce or waltz...awesome. It's the heaviest song this side of Carmina Burana in classical music and he's given it a light bounce. This is what I'm talking about. Love it, love everything about it.

Leo Kottke
One Guitar, No Vocals
I somehow ended up with Kottke's iconic 'Armadillo' album (6 and 12 String Guitar) as a promo. I don't really know how, I guess because it was 'folk' or something. I kind of remember just picking it up out of the box and thinking, "Huh."

When I got it home, though, I was smitten. When that dude with the dreamy hair and less shirt than recommended sits down to noodle on the guitar, this is what I want to hear him play. So so often that is not even close to the case. I guess he can't be blamed, I'm not his target audience, I don't want to be wooed by him, I just don't want to be annoyed by him and his aggressive strumming of some half-figured out Alice and Chains song. (is it a dated reference? Yes, but I don't run into douchy guitar guy much anymore so it remains relevant to when I was, so there...)

Actually speaking of douchy guitar guy, while driving around with my brother a week or so back we saw the most metal dude ever, walking in long sleeve black in 100 degree weather with a guitar slung over his back, no case. This has nothing to do with Kottke, but I just remembered that and thought his metalness should be recorded.

Kottke is another one of those guys where a lot has been written about him and I feel silly trying to say something new about him. There are a couple styles of guitar playing that I actually like and this is one of them, that sort of simple/complicated folk guitar, no heavy handed strumming going on her or over involved picking, just enough warmth and complexity. It's pretty easy to let this music kind of take you in.

As the title suggests, there are no vocals, which was the case with the Armadillo album, but the 'one guitar' bit sort of implies that there is going to be just the guitar. Not so, every now and then a little texture is added by an organ and perhaps a synthesizer. A little distracting to be honest.

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