In his time, European classical composer Gustav Mahler (b. 1860, d. 1911) had both his supporters and his detractors. Some people in Europe understood his work; some people didn't. And in the 21st century, the same thing can be said about Uri Caine, a risk taker who has been called everything from ultra-pretentious to a musical visionary. The latter, not the former, is accurate; Caine's jazz/Euro-classical experimentation has had its excesses at times, but dismissing him as pretentious or silly is unwarranted -- and his pluses greatly outweigh his minuses. Caine's creativity is at a very high level on Dark Flame, a tribute to Mahler. Caine does not pay tribute to Mahler by performing his work exactly as it was played in the 19th century or early 20th century; instead, Caine interprets, offering an orchestral jazz/classical mixture that is Mahler-influenced but is hardly an exact replica of Mahler's work. World music is also an influence for Caine, who incorporates everything from East European music to Asian music. Mahler, of course, was never influenced by jazz, which existed in his lifetime but wasn't recorded officially until after his death (although jazz historians believe that cornetist Buddy Bolden and his colleagues were playing an early form of Dixieland in New Orleans in the 1890s, it wasn't until the release of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's "Lively Stable Blues" in 1917 that a jazz recording finally became commercially available and was widely distributed). And the very fact that Caine has a jazz perspective lets you know that his Mahler tribute isn't going to sound exactly like a classical orchestra. Much of Dark Flame is instrumental, although parts of the album include spoken word; either way, Caine celebrates Mahler on his own terms on this consistently intriguing CD.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson