Town Hall, Birmingham UK
A bitterly cold Birmingham Monday evening, and if outside the Town Hall the German market was lifting spirits a little, inside the Town Hall the spirit of Dave Brubeck was doing a lot more.
The three Brubeck brothers, Darius on piano, Chris on bass and Dan on drums, together with Dave O’Higgins on tenor and soprano saxophones, played a programme which mixed the big hits with lesser known Brubeck pieces. Shrewdly, all were taken from a strongly contained part of the expansive Brubeck canon: the best-selling Time Out and Time Further Out albums, and the Jazz Impressions of Eurasia and Jazz Impressions of Japan albums which bookended them.
Now there were bound to be conflicting desires in the hearts of the predominantly mature audience (that is to say, an audience that has been living with this music for the last 50 years): they wanted to hear Three To Get Ready, Blue Rondo a la Turk, It’s A Raggy Waltz, Take Five, all as they have them stored in their memories. But, if they thought about it, they also wanted proper jazz, ie spontaneous creation in the moment, and the players up there on the stage to be themselves.
And that is what they got. Darius, Chris and Dan may be the sons of Dave but they are also strong and experienced musicians in their own right, and playing cover versions of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s greatest hits preserved in aspic is not their style.
There were clever references back, of course. Darius favoured the strongly rhythmic, richly harmonised double-handed chordal approach to improvisation that is very much in the tradition of his father; Dan, in the crucial drum solo in Take Five, made just the right references to Joe Morrello’s original while going his own way.
As a tribute to the music of Dave Brubeck, one could not have asked for more.
The Middle Eastern inflections of The Golden Horn and Nomad, from the Eurasian impressions, and The Koto Song from the Japanese ones, provided rich expansions of the Brubeck sound and style, reminding us the huge part Dave Brubeck had played (like Duke Ellington before him) in taking jazz to the world, and feeding the world back into jazz.
Strikingly, for me, the two real high points of the evening were ones when the musical characters on the stage found themselves loosened from the Dave Brubeck Quartet material.
One was Dance Of The Shadows, a recent tune from Chris and Dan’s own band, which brought forth more relaxed performances from all four players, especially from Dan whose natural home would seem to be in a jazz-rock fusion space. O’Higgins, here, felt able to let himself go a bit, and dig deeper into his wealth of tenor power.
The other highlight was still a Dave Brubeck Quartet song, Strange Meadow Lark, but freed from the quartet format. Darius and Chris, this time on his more usual instrument, the trombone, played a truly glorious duet and sounded like this was where they were truly themselves.
The audience clapped along with infectious 7/4 rhythm of Unsquare Dance as the encore, and then queued to meet the band and share their memories with them. Dave Brubeck’s enduring spirit would warm the journey home.