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Mood for Mahler


As far as Uri Caine is concerned, the music of Gustav Mahler is ripe for far-reaching interpretations.

"Mahler's music is kaleidoscopic," said pianist-composer Caine, a core member of the exploratory downtown New York jazz scene. "It goes from high art sounds to low street sounds. I see his music as a springboard for some good ideas."

Caine has conceived of the third movement of Mahler's First Symphony as a slow yet raucous street march with helter-skelter piano lines, plaintive trumpet and clarinet insertions, and vocal mumbles a la Tom Waits. The mood shifts into an upbeat cabaret romp, then enters a segment of free-for-all improvisation.

For the lovely adagietto from Symphony No. 5, Caine paints a moving pastorale with themes serenely played on piano, trumpet, soprano sax, violin and cello, though some unexpected dissonances and more sections of free improvisation add contrast.

The two works are included on Caine's 1996 album, "Primal Light," which explores Mahler in a most imaginative fashion.


The pianist-composer plays some of this music Sunday at the Skirball Cultural Center, where the performance is being held in conjunction with the center's exhibit on Sigmund Freud. Among Caine's first-rate colleagues will be clarinetist Don Byron, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Michael Formanek, violinist Diane Monroe and vocalist Marc Lowenstein.

"The concert is supposed to be like a Mahler symphony where we play 90 minutes straight and try to get through all these different emotions," said Caine in a phone call from Rome, where he was touring. "It's a lot of fun to play it. Like the adagietto, which is so tender, and then we start to improvise and it takes on its own thing."

Caine grew up in Philadelphia studying classics such as Mahler, but he also was deeply devoted to straight-ahead jazz. He considers himself primarily a jazz pianist but said he had learned a great deal from playing Mahler his way over the past few years. Audiences love it, too.

"It's really emotional for a lot of people," he said. "Listeners tell me the idea is beautiful. It's strange that it has that effect when some of my own records don't."


In Brief: If your preferences run to standard tunes sung with a jazz feel, you might enjoy the liquid-voiced Pamala Feener, who plays Wednesday from 7 to 11 p.m. at Monteleone's West, 19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 996-0662).

Of like spirit and voice is Shelly Moore, who sings Thursday from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., at the Baked Potato, 3787 Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 980-1615).


Uri Caine plays Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets: $10-18. Call (310) 440-4500.


Zan Stewart writes about jazz for the Valley Edition. He can be reached at

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