January 30, 2019 | by James Greene, Jr.
In 1974, utensil-cramping fraud Uri Geller cashed in on his position as the world’s most popular question mark by releasing Uri Geller, a masturbatory collaboration between himself, orchestral arranger Del Newman, soul singer Maxine Nightingale, and — the lynchpin — classical pianist Byron Janis. Lauded as a prodigy in his 1930s youth for nimble and breathtaking playing, Janis began recording concertos from Beethoven, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff in the late ‘50s to wide acclaim. Hooking up with Uri Geller might seem odd for one of classical music’s most respected and celebrated figures, but not, apparently, if you know Janis — or if you’ve read his 2010 memoir, Chopin and Beyond: My Extraordinary Life in Music and the Paranormal.
Yes, Byron Janis has enjoyed otherworldly experiences that strengthened his “personal association” with Frédéric Chopin. Could this explain Janis’s 1967 unearthing in France of two enormously rare Chopin waltzes that had never been previously known or published? Is the deceased Romantic virtuoso from Poland using Byron Janis as a vehicle in our modern centuries? If anyone would want to investigate or capitalize on this, it would be Uri Geller.
“Byron Janis and Uri Geller formed a deep personal friendship soon after they met,” the liner notes of Uri Geller explain. “This record grew out of that friendship and out of the many unusual events and happenings that occurred while they worked together.”
Janis makes the ivories glimmer like crystal on Uri Geller as the titular loon recites poetry spiked with lines like “seagulls that flew over years and turned into eels” (“My Son”) and “a tiny drop of tear that has fallen off the eye of a molecule” (“I Cannot Answer You”). Geller never tries to sing; he leaves that to Nightingale, though there are one or two spots where it’s edited to seem like the latter’s voice is the former’s, an auditory sleight of hand as shameless as everything else bearing Uri Geller’s name.
Overall, Uri Geller feels like it’s trying to indoctrinate the listener into a cult, right from the opening hymnal “Come On and Love” wherein Geller establishes his gentle but firm speaking presence. With his mouth so close to the microphone, he implores you: “Hear the voice, the soft enchanted voice… it makes the forest green, it makes the flowers dream! All the tears have been wiped away, the children are here to say, ‘Come on and love!’” A choir behind him repeats that ending phrase, evoking the chaffing hell of church clothing on a Sunday morning.
Does Uri Geller reference bending spoons on Uri Geller? Of course he does. In fact, the lyrics of grand finale “Mood” coax you into picking up the nearest metal object and trying to cramp it with the powers of your mind. “If it didn’t happen, please don’t be disappointed,” Geller says at one point, “because it doesn’t happen to everybody… sometimes it doesn’t even work for me!”
The Uri Geller LP doesn’t work as anything these days but a bizarre curiosity with the potential for a few ASMR jokes and a few more at this infamous hoaxer’s expense. Interesting footnote: Uri Geller recorded a version of Uri Geller entirely in Japanese.