GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue; Eight Gershwin tunes – Uri Caine Ensemble [TrackList follows] – Winter & Winter hardcover edition 910 205-2 (also avail. as an audiophile vinyl – 917 205-1) [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue; West Side Story Suite – Katia & Marielle Labqèue, pianos – kml recordings KML 1121, 43:15 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
(Uri Caine: piano; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Joyce Hammann: violin; Jim Black: Drums; Mark Helias: acoustic bass; Theo Bleckmann: vocals; Chris Speed: clarinet; Barbara Walker: vocals)
Leonard Bernstein once remarked that you can take any section of Rhapsody in Blue out of it and do anything you want to the piece it still remains the wonderful, amazingly tuneful Rhapsody in Blue. Uri Caine has done his own versions of Mahler, Wagner, Bach, Vivaldi and Beethoven, and here he and his ensemble have at Gershwin’s fine example of classical and jazz melding.
Typical of his unique approach to packaging, the album is in a hardcover form, but he has substituted a standard plastic CD holder for the abrasive and damaging cardboard slots his previous albums had.
Do we really need yet another recording of the Rhapsody in Blue? Well, yes, if they are as different from the usual orchestral version as these two. Pianist and composer Uri Caine has for decades combined his talent, vision and a sense of humor about redoing jazz and classical chestnuts in a new light. His hope is to blow off some of the dust and reveal the real nature of this music that we may have taken for granted.
His repertory sextet is joined by two vocalists, and the Rhapsody in Blue is just the first 22 minutes of the album, which goes on to include eight more Gershwin selections in varying formats. Others have addressed the Rhapsody in a more improvisatory jazz style, such as Marcus Roberts’ 1995 version. Caine has a broader musical vision of the work. Clarinetist Speed begins it by showing that this won’t be a straight performance of the piece. The band comes in over the clarinet with a sort of samba rhythm that clearly is not like the original. Caine solos with styles including stride piano, boogie boogie, Latin and Red Garland-style bop. He does two cadenzas in the work, and the second goes thru a dozen different piano styles. A gypsy fury from eastern Europe appears towards the end of the work.
The eight other tracks are quite something too. Bleckmann is the vocalist on “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” which is a fine treatment of this standard. On “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” he shows his fine sense of humor, not unlike Caine’s. “Love Is There to Stay” gets a deep instrumental treatment, the final ballad, “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, is a piano solo by Caine as a sensitive jazzy treatment of this standard.
TrackList: Rhapsody in Blue; But Not For Me; Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off; I Got Rhythm; I’ve Got A Crush On You; They Can’t Take That Away From Me; Slap That Bass; Love Is Here To Stay; How Long Has This Been Going On.
Katia and Marielle Labèque have turned out a series of exciting two-piano CDs on first Sony Classical and now on their own label. For this effort they chose the original Gershwin version which he penned for two pianos before doing the piano and orchestra version, since he didn’t yet have the orchestration chops that he later learned and then used in his Concerto in F. The Lebèques put a spotlight on the tonal and rhythmic details in the score than sometimes go unheard in the orchestral versions. Two-piano arrangements of orchestral works have a greater value than the original idea of just allowing the work to be performed by two musicians instead of a whole orchestra.
After hearing many different standard versions of the Rhapsody in Blue I think I prefer this one, without the overly-familiar Klezmer-style clarinet at the start. Gershwin himself described how he created the work originally on the train, with its steely rhythms—much like Ellington talked about creating some of his compositions on the train. Those rhythms are more a part of this version than that of the orchestra-with-piano work. It also appealed to me, having performed the two-piano version of the Concerto in F with my piano teacher.
All this also applies to the West Side Story Suite. It could provide a new insight into the musical genius of Bernstein. New relationships of musical themes in the familiar tunes are enhanced rather than diminished by the arrangement for two pianos. This is a very welcome alternative to the versions of the music by such as Stan Kenton and Oscar Peterson, and most enjoyable to hear.
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue for two pianos; West Side Story: Prologue, Jet Song, Something’s Coming, Rock Blues, Mambo, Cha Cha, Maria, America, Cool, I Feel Pretty, One Hand One Heart, Tonight, Somewhere, A Boy Like That, I Have a Love, The Rumble, Finale