Uri Caine: Agent Orange

Expressing himself as much in a classical as jazz vein, Caine draws a parallel between an infamous herbicide and an orange-tinted politician


The work was commissioned in 2017 for the 50th anniversary of the Brussels Jazz Festival, which occurred the following year. Caine was asked to produce something for orchestra and four improvisers. The year of the first festival in 1968 was a year of demonstrations and riots and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

Agent Orange was a powerful herbicide used during the Vietnam war and, in 1968, in the Korean demilitarised zone. It proved to be extremely toxic to humans, causing cancers and deformities. By 1968 these effects were widely known. Caine’s brief sleeve-note indicates that this composition was also a reaction to another poisonous and pernicious orange agent, one that had taken power in 2016.

If I was much fussed about pigeon-holes I’d say that this piece fits into the contemporary classical rather than the jazz one, despite plenty of improvisation and jazz-like passages.

Whatever, it is an exuberant, tumultuous and provocative work, often sounding anarchic but surely tightly designed and controlled in the main. On The March features some especially ferocious playing by Liebman. The Civil War Fugue is a furious Ivesian fantasia incorporating, inter alia, bugle calls, I Wish I Was In Dixie and The Star-Spangled Banner.

Agent Orange: Premonitions; Agent Orange; The Separation Of The Children; Fine People On Both Sides; Upside Down Bible; Bleach Blues; The Lies Of The Lost Cause; Civil War Fugue; On The March; An Uncertain Future (45.13)
Brussels Philharmonic conducted by Alexander Hanson; Dave Liebman (ss); Uri Caine (p); John Hebert (b); DJ Olive (elec); uncredited v. Brussels, 18 January 2018.
Winter & Winter 910 286-2