Uri Caine at the Montreal Jazz Festival

Solo concerts are some of the most difficult and revealing situations for musicians, but they can also be the most rewarding and profound for both the performer and the audience. A well-executed solo performance is a journey into the musical mind of the performer, and when Uri Caine sat down at the piano on the stage of Salle Gesu (which, because of its intimacy and acoustics, is arguably one of the finest venues in the Montreal Jazz Festival) on July 5th, he displayed a musical mind as fascinatingly varied as they come.

Uri Caine has the remarkable talent of connecting dots most people can’t even see. Throughout the 90-minute performance, Caine made use of his varied musical background to mix songs from completely different repertoires: Rodgers’ “Bewitched” with Mozart’s “Sonata in C Major”, “Bye Bye Blackbird” with Lennon-McCartney’s “Blackbird”, Mozart’s “Turkish March” with “Nefertiti”, and “On Green Dolphin Street” with “Maple Leaf Rag”.

The sheer number of songs might have been overwhelming if they weren’t all presented in a similar cohesive, quirky style. Caine easily made rhythmic modulations and harmonic adjustments, often keeping the audience guessing by only hinting at a song’s melody for four bars over unexpected chords. He would often use clusters of semi-tones to create textures, and would occasionally repeatedly hammer out one note or chord with his left hand.

Caine’s left hand work was occasionally even more impressive than his right, whether he was using a syncopated, stride-influenced accompaniment (such as during “Honeysuckle Rose”), walking a bass line, or comping in the mid-range of the piano. However, Caine’s right hand was no slouch: he made full use of the range of the piano to convey melodic ideas or weave expansive bebop-influenced lines.

Between hard-swinging standards, straight-eighth grooves reminiscent of Keith Jarrett, and classically trained pianism, Uri Caine delivered a satisfying performance ranging from raucous to beautiful. For a taste of Uri Caine’s solo piano playing, check out his 2014 album Callithump, which was recorded front to back in one take.