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Performing Arts

Where Bach Swings and 'Manon' Soars

Recordings: Jazzers give new meaning to variations, while opera's first couple make Massenet come alive.

*** BACH: "Goldberg" Variations, Jacques Loussier Trio, Telarc

**** BACH: "Goldberg" Variations, Uri Caine Ensemble, Winter & Winter

November 19, 2000|RICHARD S. GINELL

Two jazz keyboardists have their way with J.S. Bach's "Goldberg" Variations--with Caine easily outpointing Loussier in sheer chutzpah. We know what to expect from Loussier, who has made a career out of jazzing Bach--a swinging, orderly trip through the variations with bass and drums, sometimes adhering to the score, sometimes using it to launch elegantly turned improvised flights. But Caine goes much, much further out. Armed with acoustic and electric keyboards, early and modern instrument groups, voices, jazzers like Greg Osby and Don Byron, DJs and other characters, he expands the "Goldbergs" to 70 variations, many of his own construction, in almost every conceivable idiom--Afro-Cuban Bach, hip-hop Bach, soul-gospel Bach, Mozart-ized Bach, free-jazz Bach or (surprise) Bach played straight. It's a laugh-out-loud, 2 1/2-hour musical spree. Yet Caine also seems to be saying that Bach, whose name means "brook" in German, is the stream from which everything else flows--and no one has done so with such a delightfully bent, open mind.

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