Dave Brubeck may be
the most versatile pigeonholed composer
in the world today. In the 1950s he
was one of the founders of ‘Cool School’
jazz, and has since been lionized for
that success. It cannot be denied that
he is among the giants of jazz music,
but lost in his success is that he is
also a truly great composer in many
other genres. He has written two ballets,
a musical, a mass setting, several oratorios
and cantatas, and numerous piano pieces
and orchestral works. In every arena
he has been successful. So while he
should be universally recognized for
his works in jazz, it is actually a
shame that he is not recognized as a
modern Stravinsky. After all, he is
able to enigmatically move from one
genre to another with equal facility.
This collection of
his songs is illustrative of his versatility.
The texts are from a variety of sources.
Hold Fast To Dreams is set to
the words of Langston Hughes. Tao,
is based on words from the Tao Buddhist
text Tao te Ching. The rest of
the texts are written by Dave Brubeck,
his wife Iola, or his son Michael in
collaboration with John Kenney. Equally
diverse are the sources of musical inspiration
on these songs. From the jazz standard
Strange Meadowlark to the pentatonic
composition of Tao to the atonal
Hold Fast To Dreams Brubeck’s sense
of melody holds fast while his accompaniments
vary vastly. He is able to sound like
himself in seemingly any genre.
It becomes obvious
that John De Haan is very much inspired
by these melodies. His performances
are inspired throughout. This is most
true on Tao, which is sung unaccompanied.
He lingers on the simple melody, pulling
emotion out of each note and word. According
to the liner notes, this was a song
that Brubeck had just had "laying
around the house for a few decades".
It is certainly a blessing that he decided
not to give up on the piece and discard
it. De Haan measures up to the challenges
of capturing an audience with a deceptively
His rendition of the
Langston Hughes words accompanied with
the Brubeck music Dream Dust/Hold
Fast To Dreams is equally enthralling.
According to the liner notes, it was
his performance of this piece that caught
Brubeck’s attention initially, eventually
inspiring this collection. Listening
to the difficult work, it is evident
why the two men would wish to collaborate.
They seem to bring out the best in each
This is less true in
the works with Jane Giering-De Haan.
She occasionally has a tendency to fall
below pitch in her performance of Hold
Fast To Dreams. While she is notably
better in performing the duet with her
husband The Dream Keeper, her
performance style seems to depend too
much on a somewhat-excessive vibrato
that would be more suited to a more
orchestrated composition. However she
appears only on two songs included here.
of the accompaniment was played by Brubeck
himself. During those performances the
listener can sense the freedom and expressiveness
that he debuted in jazz settings more
than 60 years ago. The liner notes indicate
that those accompaniments are improvised,
though they are not always in jazz settings.
This surely is reminiscent of Bach performances,
where the master composer reinvents
his sketched composition, written out
as only one path that could be taken
in performance. Where Cliff Jackson
plays, excepting Strange Meadowlark,
the accompaniments are generally stiffer.
One wonders if this is because Mr. Jackson
is too attached to the sheet music,
which does not bind Brubeck. Or perhaps
it is because Brubeck did not fully
notate his intentions, relying on improvisational
facility to flesh out his thoughts.
It could easily be a combination of
both. Regardless, though there certainly
is nothing technically wrong with Jackson’s
performances, it is quite evident which
accompaniments are played by which pianist.
This reviewer certainly feels that the
Brubeck accompaniments are superior.
The liner notes offer
a few choice thoughts by De Haan as
well as the texts of the songs by the
members of the Brubeck family, although
the texts from Langston Hughes are omitted.
Considering the collaborative nature
of the disc, it seems unfortunate that
there are no notes from Dave Brubeck.
Also missing are some simple things,
such as dates of composition or publication
for the songs. This could be because
Brubeck himself is not sure when each
piece was completed, but it would be
at least interesting to see the development
of Brubeck’s songwriting through time.
All of that said, this
album can certainly be recommended.
There are some truly beautiful moments
contained on this disc. When De Haan
and Brubeck are performing together,
it is a joy to listen. The weaker points
on the album do not detract enough to
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