If you missed pianist Uri Caine with the Lutoslawski Quartet at National Sawdust last night, you missed a really fun show. Caine is one of the great wits in music, a category-defying player equally adept at jazz, classical and klezmer. He’d been commissioned by the organizers of the Jazztopad Festival to collaborate with the enterprising Polish string quartet, and the results were obviously contagious. In between numbers, cellist Maciej Miodawski couldn’t resist breaking into a smile, and while his bandmates – violinists Marcin Marcowic and Bartocz Woroch, and violist Artur Rozmyslowicz – were more stoic, there was no mistaking the cameraderie between the five players onstage. An album of their work over the past year together, both in Poland and the US, is due out soon.
The performance was about album-length, half a dozen pieces in total clocking in at around the fifty minute mark. Caine nimbly negotiated long, rapidfire cascades and arpeggiated flurries, interspersed with seemingly haphazard leaps and bounds that sounded like improvisation even though they were obviously not: this group keeps it fresh. Meanwhile, the quartet alternated between gracefully paced circular motives, steady pizzicato and shiftting sheets of atmospherics.
And Caine’s signature sense of humor was ubiquitous: in the wry round-robin of pizzicato that concluded one number, a similarly droll series of glissandos later on, and in the surrealistic juxtaposition of gleaming, Schubertian neoromanticism and increasingly errant variations that were sort of a more elegant take on what Spike Jones might have done with the theme. Caine led the group into the most trad piece of the night, lowlit with his barrelhouse lefthand and gospel allusions, to close the show The crowd roared for an encore; they didn’t get one .
What was a little surprising was the choice of venue. National Sawdust has world-class sonics and is a perennially enjoyable place to take in a show. On the other hand, the expat Polish community a little to the north and west in Greenpoint is fiercely supportive of their indigenous sounds. A guy as far out as Tomasz Stanko can sell out any one of the wedding halls there. Considering the size of the Polish contingent that made it to this one, the crowd would have tripled in size closer to Greenpoint Avenue.