Jazz bassist Neal Caine has amassed an impressive list of credits since leaving University City for New Orleans, New York and beyond. Known as a sideman to musicians such as Harry Connick Jr, Diana Krall, Ellis Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Benny Green and the late Elvin Jones, now Caine is coming home to lead his own quartet in a free outdoor concert for the Whitaker Music Festival at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. This trip back to St. Louis is special, however, because Caine will be celebrating the release of Backstabber's Ball, his brand new CD debut as a leader and composer.
Reserved, thoughtful and intimate, yet discreetly grooving, the music on Backstabber's Ball evokes the pianoless quartets of the west-coast "cool jazz" of the '50s in some places, and in others seems almost like outtakes from Dave Holland's Conference of the Birds, re-imagined as sketches in muted pastels. A solid timekeeper with a big sound on bass, Caine shows considerable imagination as an arranger and composer, getting the most from the available instrumental resources, yet knowing when to edit or change direction to refocus a listener's attention. With able assistance from Ned Goold and Stephen Riley on saxes and clarinet and Jason Marsalis on drums, the result is a quietly satisfying musical experience that combines smart writing with carefully controlled emotion.
Backstabber's Ball undeniably shows that Caine has the skills to be a successful leader. The only question is how the cozy mood sustained so well in the studio will adapt to the very different requirements of an outdoor concert performed in front of thousands. But if Caine is half as smart as his debut CD makes him seem, he'll find a way to win over the crowd without even working up a sweat.
The free concert begins at 7 p.m.