Dave Brubeck – Swing into Summer

Dave Brubeck
Summer Music
A Salute to the Count
New Wine (from Voice of the Holy Spirit)
Regret [World Premiere]
Blue Rondo à la Turk
Unsquare Dance
Koto Song
Howard Brubeck
Theme for June
Paul Desmond
Take Five

Dave Brubeck (piano), Bobby Militello (saxophone and flute), Michael Moore (bass) & Randy Jones (drums)
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Russell Gloyd

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 24 May, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

After more than 60 years in the business there are few that would question the status of Dave Brubeck as a jazz icon. Once again, the combination of Brubeck and the LSO proved too good to miss for the regular followers of Brubeck’s quirky unsquare rhythms – standing room only. Sadly, though, this was an audience of fans that seemed to be there to see Brubeck, the idol, regardless of the quality of the music produced; had this been a factor I doubt that the applause would have lasted quite so long.

Problems that marred the “LSO Live” CD (to be reviewed) vis-à-vis balance and ensemble were all too evident in this concert. Conductor Russell Gloyd, who appears to have built his career conducting Brubeck concerts, lacks the required technique to lead the LSO with any real proficiency if the two examples of his work that I have experienced are a testament to his ability. The LSO is more than capable of producing a balanced sound. Tonight, without exception, when the brass was playing the strings and wind might as well not have been there. Often entries were late, which caused raggedness – not an option in music of this genre.

Dave Brubeck, Bobby Militello, Michael Moore and Randy JonesIf, according to this concert-goer’s ears, the conductor hindered the creative process, the opposite was true on the occasions that he went to the side of the stage, leaving Brubeck’s band to do their own thing. Tonight’s line-up was Brubeck’s more-regular players, including Slough-born Randy Jones. Gloyd, who compered with wit and enthusiasm, said the mention of Jones’s birthplace always brought laughter from British audiences. Not so for bass player Michael Moore, though I guess “Come Friendly Bombs, fall on Cincinnati” does not have the same resonance. Moore’s lyric improvisation, using the bow, during the middle section of Blue Rondo à la Turk was as melodically beautiful as it was technically challenging. The applause received from the orchestra alone merely serving to underline the New York Times’s description of Moore as “one of the most consistently brilliant bassists in recent history”.

Naturally there were pieces taken from the “LSO Live” CD, but there were also some other, lesser-heard gems. Regret, for string orchestra and piano, received its first performance. Very much rooted in the American mould of Barber and Bernstein, the long string opening and closing passages allowed, for the first time, the LSO’s strings to be heard in their fullest warmth and glory. The story behind the work’s title goes something like this, allegedly:

DB: Are you gonna play my piece?
RG: What piece?
DB: The piece I just wrote
RG: What’s it called?
DB: Don’t know – I regret not naming it
RG: Sounds like a good name
DB: Sorry!
As is now customary at the end of every Brubeck concert, we heard what has become his theme. Ironically, Take Five was not written by Brubeck, but by a fellow student of Darius Milhaud, Paul Desmond. Bobby Militello’s rendition, of what is probably the most famous saxophone melody ever, is harmonically poles-removed from Desmond’s original recording. Militello has been working with Brubeck since 1982 and a more skilled player would be hard to find. He is also an accomplished flautist. His cadenza at the end of Koto Song is testimony to this – two- or three-note multiphonic chords (that is playing up to three notes at the same time) were expertly formed and always in tune, which demonstrates excellent technique and real understanding of the instrument.

Two encores rounded off the evening – the first being Ellington’s Take the A Train which was almost entirely played by the quartet with just a few bars at the end from the orchestra. The audience would not let the quartet leave. Brubeck’s parting was pre-empted by a nod to Brahms taking one verse from his famous ’Lullaby’ with harmonisation appropriate to the occasion. Good night Mr. Brubeck, lullaby and sleep tight. Your band was wonderful, your solos sparkled. Please, next time, can somebody get the balance right?

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