Jazz Meets Symphonic: Uri Caine at Flagey

In 1819 Ludwig van Beethoven sat at his desk and began to compose one of the most loved pieces of his repertoire: the Diabelli Variations. Originally conceived after a request from the Viennese publisher, Anton Diabelli, to compose a single variation on a melody, it would take Beethoven four years to finish the entire piece: thirty three variations for piano. By that time, he’d also be at work on a complex orchestral piece, the Ninth Symphony. He was forty eight.

At sixty two, Uri Caine has come to Brussels to delight the audience, with Beethoven’s music, but also with Jazz. On Thursday January 18th, the American pianist and composer performed at Flagey accompanied by the Brussels Philharmonic, conducted by Alexander Hanson. The concert was one of the headlines of the Brussels Jazz Festival at Flagey, which is taking place from the 11th until the 20th of January. The festival has received jazz artists and bands such as the Enrico Rava Tribe, Soweto Kinch, Tony Allen, Mâäk, and many more.

Uri Caine – ©flagey

Wearing loose, black clothes and rimless glasses, Caine met the audience at Flagey’s studio four. With an untucked shirt he sat behind the grand piano and began to play the theme of the Diabelli’s variations with virtuosity. The first half of the program consisted of the Diabelli Variations for Chamber Orchestra and improvised Piano solo, a piece Caine composed in 2001. Throughout the performance there were segments that resembled Beethoven’s composition, but also moments of ragtime jazz, smooth passages with string instruments, as well as the first few notes of the Moonlight Sonata. Caine seemed to be enjoying himself while performing his own composition, which included instances when he slapped the side of the piano, clapped, and even sneezed.

The second part of the concert included the piece commissioned by Flagey and De Bijloke, specifically for this event. The world premiere of Agent Orange included the performances by jazz master Dave Liebman on the saxophone, John Hebert on the double bass, and DJ Olive at the mixing table. The composition, which in its title includes a veiled reference to the US president, has a rich percussive element, with three musicians at the back of the stage busy shifting from one percussion instrument to the next. At different points one can hear the sounds of a woman laughing, a baby babbling, or a man groaning, going on for a while, then fading away. But the gift of the night was Liebman’s performance, whose soprano saxophone filled the hall with its amazing, delicate sounds.

On Friday the 19th, Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Bandit 65 will perform at 21:00, while Matthew Herbert’s Brexit Big Band and Choir will delight the audience on Saturday night.