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Classical Brubeck
Dave BRUBECK (b. 1920)

Beloved Son (1978) *
Pange Lingua Variations (1983)
Voice of the Holy Spirit (Tongues of Fire) (1985) *
Regret (2001)
Alan Opie, baritone*
Thomasin Trezise, soprano
London Voices (Terry Edwards, chorus master)
Dave Brubeck Quartet
London Oratory School Schola (Michael McCarthy, chorus master)
London Symphony Orchestra/Russell Gloyd
Recorded at Studio One, Abbey Road, London, May 25th-29th 2002.
TELARC 2CD-80621 [131.58]

My only previous encounter with jazz legend Dave Brubeck's "classical" side was with the Brodsky Quartet's recording of a Chromatic Fantasy. This double CD finds us in very different territory, mainly choral pieces of religious inspiration. The jazz influence is well to the fore in places and I imagine purists (on either side?) may well balk at some of the instrumental interjections from Brubeck and his quartet but I found the whole package a real delight to listen to, once again proving that "crossover" can work when it is based in integrity rather than profit seeking. Jazz musicians on both sides of the Atlantic, Wynton Marsalis and John Surman spring to mind, have already shown that this kind of project can work very well in the right hands and Brubeck has done himself proud here.

The most recent piece is the only non-vocal one included - Regret is a bluesy, elegiac string meditation, not a million miles from the idiom of, say, Morton Gould. It features a lovely piece of piano playing by the man himself as well. Voice of the Holy Spirit (Tongues of Fire) is a highly entertaining telling of the events of Pentecost and the subsequent spiritual adventures of the apostles told in Acts, with some of Paul's most famous writings from the letters thrown in for good measure, e.g. When I was a Child. In some places, e.g. New Wine, the music and singing could even be described as rollicking, John Tavener it is not but that is not to belittle the love and care that went into this overwhelmingly joyous piece. The older pieces on the first disc are slightly less influenced by jazz, as perhaps befits their genesis in Lutheran poetry and Gregorian hymnal respectively. Beloved Son reminded me in places of some of Will Todd's work, Brubeck sharing with that young British composer a desire to communicate his ideas in the context of tonal, tuneful and downright accessible music. I also found a kinship with the aforementioned John Surman's wonderful Proverbs and Songs in the open hearted writing style employed. Both here and in Voice of the Holy Spirit, Alan Opie's baritone is a really splendid sound to hear and both the choirs involved, adult and children's, excel themselves. In Rabboni, the final part of Beloved Son and in the following Pange Lingua Variations a neoclassical, even Bachian/Handelian element enters, but the jazz percussion and rhythmic invention keep us constantly reminded of what and who it actually is we are listening to.

The original ancient hymn on which the Variations are based celebrates the sacrament of Communion and, although the text is from St. Thomas Aquinas, and here also heard in an English translation by Brubeck's wife Iola, the tune may well date back to Roman and even pre-Roman Hebrew times. Although at times you may think you are hearing the monks of Silos then a minute later an intimate jazz set, this is for much of the time the most immediate piece on the set and contains some very grateful choral writing. It would perhaps have been nice to have had texts included but diction is generally fairly clear and most of the words or their sources are probably fairly easy to track down if one has the mind to do so. Taken as a whole, this disc has to be regarded as a success. You may find that it is too exhausting to listen to in one go but there is a great deal of enjoyable and even memorable material here. The composer's sincerity regarding his subject matter shines through and reminds us that religious music does not have to be dull, sombre or over-precious. Much as I love, say, Arvo Pärt, there is nothing to say that Brubeck's way of getting his particular message across is any less or, for that matter, more valid. I remain particularly taken by Voice of the Holy Spirit but recommend the disc in its entirety.

Neil Horner



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