One does have to hand
it to Naxos – for all sorts of reasons.
In this case the object of affection
is Naxos’s American Classics Series,
where, for minimal outlay people can
get musically acquainted with composers
otherwise largely ignored by the rest.
There we find Ned Rorem, Amy Beach,
Chadwick, Strong, Piston, William Schuman,
Diamond, to name but a few, as well
as Barber, Copland and Ives, thus fulfilling
Naxos’s mission to educate as well as
But how do you define
"classics"? When the composer
is Dave Brubeck I expect his jazz to
figure; "Take Five" and "Unsquare
Dance" are both classics in the
accepted sense. However, when he wears
his other hat of classical composer
we get a completely different picture.
It is, of course, well documented that
Brubeck was a student of Milhaud, who
was one of the first composers to incorporate
the jazz idiom into his often extremely
witty compositions (e.g: "La Création
Du Monde"). But with this selection
of fourteen of his songs setting words
by himself, his wife Iola, son Michael
as well as those by Langston Hughes
and, in one case, an ancient Tao Buddhist
text, we have works in a more popular
than classical mood. They are likeable
enough but I can’t help thinking that
they may have been better served by
different singers. The two singers on
this disc, John De Haan and Jane Giering
De Haan, are principally opera singers.
Voices such as these are too operatic
to make a sufficiently convincing job
of the more popular idiom. Perhaps it
is a question of control; opera singers
find it more difficult to achieve a
more laid-back, unbuttoned sound. John
De Haan, in particular, struggles to
present an easy-going style and in two
cases to manage the highest notes (e.g:
the last notes of "All my love"
and "The time of our madness").
I’d love to hear these songs sung by
Shirley Horn or Dawn Upshaw or Jamie
Cullum. I’m sure they would reveal more
of the underlying intention than these
two do, despite receiving the total
backing of the composer who is accompanist
for seven of the songs.
Not an unqualified
recommendation then, but, as I said
at the outset, the outlay is so small
that for those who want to hear what
Dave Brubeck can do other than pure
jazz, this disc will not cost them dear.
see also review