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The Uri Caine Ensemble, including pianist and composer Uri Caine, violinist Diane Monroe, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, clarinetist Greg Tardy, drummer Jim Black, bassist Mike Formanek, and turntable player DJ Olive, will perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 11, at Lafayette’s Williams Center for the Arts.

Tickets cost $15 and may be purchased by calling the box office, (610) 330-5009. There will be a pre-concert lecture by Larry Lipkis, professor of music at Moravian College, at 7 p.m. The talk is free and open to the public.

The concert and lecture are the concluding events in the “Ancient Faiths, Modern Voices” festival, a Humanities and the Arts Initiative funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council with additional support from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Focusing on issues of faith and cultural expression, the festival deals with how faith informs culture, how people’s heritage determines their place in history, and how a humane society enfolds its diverse ancestries and embraces its artistic expressions. For more information, call the Williams Center, (610) 330-5010.

With Austrian composer Gustav Mahler as his inspiration, Caine bridges Viennese modernism with turn-of-millennium jazz sensibilities. The concert is a reworking of familiar songs and symphonic passages of Mahler, who lived at the end of the 19th century, converting from his born Jewish faith to Christianity in the late 1890s. Much of his music includes vernacular music — snippets of village dances, songs, and military marches from Eastern Europe. Elements of klezmer music are included. Caine blends these vernacular elements with the improvisational style of contemporary American jazz, creating textures of symphonic jazz comparable to Mahler’s episodic symphonies.

The program begins with a reworking of the Funeral March movement from Symphony no. 5 and closes with the final song from “Song of the Earth,” which Caine recomposes with the Hebrew chant “El Maleh Rachamin,” sung at times of death. This song will be performed by Cantor Ellen Sussman, of Allentown’s Congregation Keneseth Israel, as a guest artist with Caine’s ensemble.

“Mr. Caine’s reworkings are radically different from the kind of cut-and-paste postmodernism that is prevalent among other avant-gardists,” wrote the New York Times last September. “His classical adaptations build new works from seemingly minor details in the originals in the same way that film director Peter Greenaway created Prospero’s Books out of The Tempest…His stylistic breadth makes for challenging listening, but his command of wide-ranging styles and music history allow him to deftly translate classical compositions into modern settings…Mr. Caine’s supple playing and high-minded reinterpretations reflect Samuel Coleridge’s assertion that ‘genius of the highest kind’ involves the power to modify or transform an old work into something entirely new.”

Philadelphia magazine stated, “From groove to gravitas, Caine produces music that is informed in a postmodern way and often self-referentially humorous. These recordings are the best evidence there is that Caine has always been listening — to his bebop mentors, his musicological professors, the cantor at his synagogue, even Bill Cosby.”

While taking considerable liberties with Mahler’s compositions, Caine’s interpretations take a serious look at the roots of Mahler’s own music and reflect the way that the composer himself mixed styles and genres. These interpretations are recorded on Urlicht/Primal Light, which was released in Europe and then in North America in 1996 and 1997. British critic Stuart Nicholson wrote of Primal Light: “Seldom in the past 20 years has a player come along with such bravura spirit.” The International Mahler Society gave the album the award for the most innovative Mahler recording of the year in 1997. Performing this material at both jazz and classical festivals, the Uri Caine Ensemble has toured Europe extensively, including a much-celebrated performance at Mahler Music Week in Toblach, Italy. Under the name “Mahler Revisited,” the ensemble toured England in June 1998.

“The highlight of the whole season is likely to be pianist Uri Caine’s ‘Mahler Revisited,’” stated The Birmingham Post. “It’s a jawdropping work which blends marching band wallop and Jewish Cantor echo, racing klezmer with raging free jazz outbreaks, occasionally reverting to recognizable symphonic or song-oriented pieces.”

While growing up in Philadelphia, Caine spent his days studying with composers George Rocheberg and George Crumb, as well as pianist Vladimir Sokoloff of the Curtis Institute. At night, Caine was in clubs playing jazz with such luminaries as Philly Joe Jones, Hank Mobley, Johnny Coles, Mickey Roker, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and Cornell Rochester. Caine moved to New York in the late 1980s, where he was soon anchoring the swing bands of Terry Gibbs and Buddy DeFranco. At the same time, he immersed himself in the rich and varied downtown music scene, and began working regularly with jazz experimentalists such as Sam Rivers and Barry Altschul.

It was there that Caine met clarinetist and composer Don Byron and embarked on an immensely fruitful collaboration involving numerous bands and recordings that span an extraordinary range of musical genres. Caine has played on almost every album recorded by Byron. He also released a pair of his own tribute albums: Toys (for Herbie Hancock) and Sphere Music (in homage to Thelonious Monk).

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