The New York Times once characterized Uri Caine as "an interpretive musicologist [who] mines compositions for musical metaphors." That description has never been more apt than it is on Rio, the result of an intensive week-long musical residence in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"Brazilian music is so variegated," the pianist observes. "The more you research, the more you realize that it's not just Antonio Carlos Jobim, which is what most American jazz musicians think of." Caine's own infatuation with the music of Brazil came during a stint with a contemporary samba group in Philadelphia. "I was interested in really checking it out," he recalls, "both from the source and also hearing how it was interpreted on a record like [Wayne Shorter's] Native Dancer." Caine has flirted with these elements on his own albums - most notably Urlicht: Primal Light and Goldberg Variations, featuring the respective vocals of Arto Lindsay and Vinicius Cantuaria - but never devoted an entire project to their exploration. Until now.
Rio teems with the pulse of present-day Rio de Janeiro: the music as well as the atmosphere, the orchestral sounds of the street. While the core of the album features Caine at work with a jazz-oriented quintet (anchored by drummer Paulo Braga), there are many additional voices culled from the fabric of the city. Included in this company are a prize-winning samba school from Rio's Villa Isabel section, recorded in a neighborhood parking lot; a three-man electro-acoustic percussion ensemble encountered at an open-air night market; a gang of political agitators who barged into a restaurant one night shouting slogans; a Rio-based rap group named Stereo Americana; and an up-and-coming singer named Jair, on loan from the Trama record label in São Paulo. All told, it's an incredibly wide-ranging impression of Rio's music scene - unified by Caine's crisp, buoyant sound on piano and Fender Rhodes. "It was planned happenstance," he notes, "in the sense that I sort of knew what I was going for but didn't realize what would sound good - so I had to wade through all the stuff that they had."
The subtle inclusion of ambient sounds - like the clanging whine of the Saint Theresa funicular car - further distinguishes Rio as an AudioFilm image of a particular place in time. "When I listen to it," Caine remarks, "it really does remind me of the trip that we had." That trip plays like a vivid dream: authentically detailed yet surreally tinted, less a programmatic sampling than a living, pulsating whole. -Nate Chinen