Philadelphia Experiment

Philadelphia Experiment

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This loose trio date brings together three Philadelphia-bred musicians with radically divergent careers but a lot in common nonetheless. They are pianist/keyboardist Uri Caine, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer/programmer Ahmir ("?uestlove") Thompson from the Roots. It's a textbook example of how jazz, soul, and hip-hop were becoming deeply intertwined at the outset of the new millennium. The album features a number of original tunes and improvisations, as well as covers from sources as diverse as Sun Ra, Marvin Gaye, Elton John, and Grover Washington, Jr. Along the way the trio is joined by John Swana on trumpet, Pat Martino on guitar, and Larry Gold on cello. Caine relies heavily on the Fender Rhodes piano, with McBride switching between electric and acoustic basses and Thompson combining live and programmed beats. Two of the covers, "Ain't It the Truth" and "Ile Ife," are by the early-'70s group Catalyst, whose members used to back Pat Martino. Some of the material is a bit lightweight, and one of the more gripping pieces, "(re)Moved," fades away before it can become anything substantial. That said, the playing is great and the grooves are irresistible -- particularly the opening title track. Caine closes the program with a solo acoustic rendition of Grover Washington Jr.'s "Mr. Magic," and then McBride extends the Washington tribute with a hidden track, a playful solo bass reading of "Just the Two of Us." Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom," performed as a piano/cello duo, is eyebrow-raising but a bit contrived. Ultimately the date comes across as three extraordinary talents just having fun, although the ramifications for eclectic music-making in the future are profound.

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