Saturday, August 17, 2013

CD Review: Han Bennink/Uri Caine - Sonic Boom

Han Bennink/Uri Caine
Sonic Boom
(816 Music)

It's kind of a surprise that no one else has spoofed the title of Miles Davis' most famous album and come up with "Grind of Blue." Maybe a band of metal head music majors out there used it without taking it beyond the campus. But until then, the brilliant title will be credited to pianist Uri Caine and drummer Han Bennink, for a track on this live set of improvisations, recorded at Amsterdam's the Bimhuis. This piece actually begins with Caine sounding like he wants to play a ballad, until Bennink adds some thunder to the scene, making the dynamics rise and fall.

Bennink, of course, stands as one of the most (if not the most) wide-ranging drummer in jazz and improvised music, able to go from the most chaotic free flights to the hardest 4/4 swing at the drop of a hat. He can be equally zany or sensitive. Caine also balances different musical worlds in his playing. He's combined a vast knowledge of classical music with a keen sense of improvisation, not to mention funk and fusion.

Onstage they're aware of how to utilize their skills and work with each other. The title track begins like a personal introduction, Bennink taking a brief free solo, Caine following with some pointillist piano before they both cut loose. Yet the piece still has some lyrical moments. "Furious Urious" lives up to its title too, since the pianist displays some fury, but that doesn't stop him from shifting into a hard stomping, bluesy groove before its done.

Without looking at the track listing, it's possible to miss the inclusion of a Thelonious Monk composition. The melody to "'Round Midnight" gets stretched and extended, with a few phrases standing out so as to perk your ears, indicating something familiar is lurking. And it retains some gentle qualities, proving these guys not only know the tune, but understand that by playing such a famous song, it's important to bring some individual stamp to it.

Albums like Sonic Boom prove that free improvisation is not always an alienating, self-indulgent type of music. It can accessible and more importantly fun if the ears open up and listen well.

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