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Dave BRUBECK (b. 1920)
Songs

All My Love [5:25]
Strange Meadowlark [4:45]
The Things You Never Remember [5:59]
So Lonely [5:28]
Don’t Forget Me [4:26]
There’ll Be No Tomorrow [4:50]
The Time of Our Madness [2:09]
Tao [2:50]
Final Curve/Search [3:15]
Dream Dust/Hold Fast To Dreams [5:23]
Hold Fast To Dreams [2:57]
The Dream Keeper [5:06]
Day After Day [4:47]
Once When I Was Very Young [3:42]
John De Haan, Tenor
Jane Giering-De Haan, Soprano
Dave Brubeck and Cliff Jackson, piano
Recorded at the Gusman Concert Hall, University of Miami, Frost School of Music from 9th-11th January, 2004
NAXOS 8.559220 [61:02] DDD

 

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 simple tune.

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 other.

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.

Approximately half 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 discount it.

Patrick Gary

see also reviews by Steve Arloff and Göran Forsling

 



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