Pianist Michael Cain's performance at Rocco's on Thursday night was a compelling study in musical adventure. The owner of bachelor's and master's degrees in music from CalArts, a faculty member at the New England Conservatory and the veteran of gigs with (among dozens of others) Jack DeJohnette and Ravi Coltrane, Cain has the training and the experience to do just about anything that he wants to do with his instrument.
At Rocco's, he placed the focus squarely on his piano work, with bassist Phil Grenier and drummer Chris Vatalaro playing purely supportive roles. Moving casually through a set of pieces--all unidentified, but presumably original--Cain worked in highly spontaneous fashion. Occasionally, he ended a piece by simply stopping, without any sort of conclusive flourish. Other works began with seemingly random bits of melody gradually coalescing into more substantive material.
Cain's opening number, with its low-level harmonic movement and its continuous repetitions over slightly shifting rhythms, had the feeling of an improvisatory reference to the work of composers such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich.
Its diminished sense of chordal cadence was present in other pieces, as well--reflective, perhaps, of Cain's interest in various sorts of drone-centered indigenous musics.
But Cain's ability to combine on-the-spot, compositional cohesion with an arching sense of line more than compensated for the sometimes static nature of his works. It was difficult, in fact, to determine where the pre-planned music began and the improvisations began--always the sign of an inventive musical mind at work.
Cain would have done himself a service, however, to have taken at least a moment to communicate titles and/or methods for his fascinating efforts. Informed listeners often are more receptive listeners.
The Michael Cain Trio at Rocco's, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Two sets tonight, 10:30 p.m. and midnight. $10 cover. (323) 804-4146.