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Dave BRUBECK (b. 1920)
Chromatic Fantasy Sonata [29:05]
Five Pieces from ‘Two-Part Adventures’ [5:50]
Tritonis [13:04]
The Salmon Strikes [3:06]
Rising Sun [3:44]
John Salmon, Piano
Recorded at the School of Music, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA on 22 September and 13-14 October, 2002 DDD
NAXOS 8.559212 [54:48]

The greatest of composers are musical chameleons able to span genres, borrow ideas from the greats that preceded them without sounding like mere imitators, and reinvent their sound in a great number of ways. Dave Brubeck certainly falls into this mold, being one of the great daring improvisers in jazz, as well as a literal member of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. His experimentations in musical forms, rhythms and time signatures not normally employed in jazz broke ground for such luminaries as Stan Kenton and Wynton Marsalis, as well as inheriting from the tradition of Gershwin, Copland and Stravinsky.

The major work on this disc, Chromatic Fantasy Sonata is a direct derivation of the music theory of J.S. Bach. However, when this piece is listened to, it is immediately discovered to be anything other than a rehashing of ideas hundreds of years old. It is a daring musical reinvention of the classical Sonata form, and uses some of Bach’s own melodic material from Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor (DWV 903) as inspiration. Additionally, Brubeck describes in the liner notes that he also attempted to use Bach’s SATB voicing theory for the Chorale section and his fugal theory for the 4-part Fugue movement.

The selections from Two-Part Adventures are short musical musings by the composer that sound like a musical melding of Guiraldi and Debussy. Again, Brubeck’s ability to merge jazz voicing and classical sensibilities is wonderfully displayed. In Tritonis, Brubeck reinvents himself by taking a work he had written for guitar and flute, then performed with his jazz quartet, and uses flamenco-inspired voicings on the solo piano version. The Salmon Strikes Back was written specifically for the performer John Salmon, recorded here, and the excellence of the performance, highlighting both his virtuosity and his emotion, is a testament to that fact. Finally the disc concludes with Rising Sun, which is another work originally done for Brubeck’s jazz quartet and reinvented for solo piano with great success.

The performance on this disc by John Salmon is of the highest caliber. Brubeck and he have a long standing personal acquaintance, and Salmon’s understanding of Brubeck’s work is evident throughout. He plays beautifully, both with precision and expertise, and pulls the most out of each note. His facility at the keyboard is wonderful. If a better performance of these works can be done, I would be amazed.

Brubeck claims that his greatest compositions were probably done at the moment, for the moment, and were probably neither recorded nor written. I can scarcely imagine what musical gems have been lost if that is true, for these works are generally superior. While they perhaps lack the spontaneity of true musical improvisation, they are the synthesis of a lifetime of musical ideas, and lack nothing in freshness or vigor. I can only believe that Brubeck is too hard on himself, as many composers are. Either that, or we can but hope that his genius is able to recapture those moments so they can be notated for the rest of us to enjoy.

In short, this disc is truly excellent. The music is a joy. The performance is exquisite. Very highly recommended.

Patrick Gary


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