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Dave BRUBECK (b. 1920)
Songs: All My Love – Strange Meadowlark – The Things You Never Remember – So Lonely – Don’t Forget Me – There’ll Be No Tomorrow; The Time of Our Madness; Tao; Final Curve/Search; Dream Dust/Hold Fast To Dreams; Hold Fast To Dreams; The Dream Keeper; Day After Day; Once When I Was Very Young
John De Haan (tenor), Jane Giering-De Haan (soprano) (Hold Fast To Dreams; The Dream Keeper), Dave Brubeck (piano) (tracks 1; 7), Cliff Jackson (piano) (tracks 9; 14)
rec. Gusman Concert Hall, University of Miami, Frost School of Music, 9-11 Jan 2004.
NAXOS 8.559220 [61:02]

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Naxos are doing great things for neglected music, not least through their American Classics series. A couple of years ago they gave us a collection of Ned Rorem’s songs, accompanied by the composer. Here, now, is Dave Brubeck providing accompaniments for half this collection of some of his songs; the booklet text makes it clear that this selection "represents but a small sampling of his solo vocal output". Can we hope for more, then?

Having the composer present always sets the imprimatur of authenticity on a project. Brubeck not only accompanies but also plays long and elaborate preludes and interludes to the songs and does so in his inimitable way. His harmonic language was always so distinct and stood out from the rest of the jazz pianists I used to listen to in my youth in the 1950s, often via short-wave broadcasts from Voice of America. In those days he was regarded by some of my jazz-loving friends as an "odd-ball", being too academic, too intellectual, not real advocate of swing. Well, the "cool jazz" movement from the West Coast had its detractors but Brubeck has survived all the counter-trends during the last half century. His compositions in those days were also a bit off the beaten track; he was one of the first to write a jazz waltz, for example.

The present disc shows him in a wide variety of styles, from twelve-tone to pop. What is a common feature, irrespective of style, is the haunting beauty of his melodies. Many of the songs at once catch you by the collar and never let go. Mentioning one or two favourites would mean that I had to leave out others that I like just as much. To my ears they are all gems. The words, printed in the booklet, are mainly by Brubeck, by his wife Iola and still within the family, by their son Michael, who wrote Once When I Was Very Young. The unaccompanied Tao is a setting of a Buddhist text. There are also four poems by Langston Hughes, not reprinted in the booklet.

If there is any criticism at all it concerns the programme planning, where the first six songs, beautiful though they are, are also very slow and create a somewhat sleepy feeling. Not until track 7 is there some rhythmic liveliness. One thing that contributes to this feeling of sameness is the singing of John De Haan. His is a thin-sounding, reedy tenor voice, employed almost constantly in piano and pianissimo in a crooning manner that takes some will-power to listen to in long stretches. The voice has some similarity to that of Peter Pears’ with sometimes a slow beat on sustained notes but without the plangent penetrating tone. This voice is much more soft-centred. Of course a crooner is more in keeping with Brubeck’s style than an operatic hero, but one could have wished for a little more power. Interestingly, when we come to the Langston Hughes settings, they are not only in a darker tonal landscape but also set for a lower voice. The baritonal part of De Haan’s voice gives more power, more focus to the singing. It is also fine to hear Jane Giering-De Haan’s bright soprano as a contrast in two of the songs.

Day After Day; yes, I have to mention it because it is extremely fine; also employs De Haan’s baritone register to good effect. Once When I Was Very Young is a lovely encore to a fascinating programme. With good sound, an interesting essay by John De Haan and with the excellent Cliff Jackson deputizing for Brubeck in the latter half of the concert this is definitely a disc that can be whole-heartedly recommended. Some of the finest songs I have heard for a long time. And you do get used to the singing, too!

Göran Forsling

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