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Dave BRUBECK (b. 1920)
Nocturnes: Blue Lake Tahoe [0:52]; Looking At A Rainbow [2:01]; Nostalgia de México [1:13]; Strange Meadowlark [2:29]; Recuerdo [4:54]; Softly, William, Softly [2:07]; Study in Fourths [1:14]; Chorale [3:56]; Upstage Rhumba [1:24]; Bluette [3:15]; Quiet As The Moon [1:58]; Lost Waltz [1:09]; The Desert and the Parched Land [1:28]; Five for Ten Small Fingers [2:29]; Soaring [0:57]; Lullaby [1:47]; Home Without Iola [2:14]; (I Still Am In Love With) A Girl Named Oli [1:34]; Joshua Redman [1:57]; Audrey [1:38]; Memories of a Viennese Park [1:42]; Koto Song [5:31]; Mr. Fats [2:04]; A Misty Morning [2:15]; I See, Satie [1:45]; Going To Sleep [1:25]
John Salmon (piano)
rec. 6, 20, 27 February, 17 April 2005, Organ Hall, School of Music, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA
NAXOS 8.559301 [55:21]

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As can be seen from the heading the majority of these Nocturnes are short, a couple of them under one minute. As pianist John Salmon writes in his liner-notes these are: ‘small, lyrical pieces that can be played by children and savoured by adults.’ The score was published in 1997 and includes 24 pieces. Mr. Fats and I Still Am in Love With a Girl Named Oli are not nocturnes but included here to give a change of character. They are what could be termed "happy jazz", swinging songs you can’t help tapping your foot to. The titles of the pieces are often mood-evocative or give a hint of some person or event that triggered Brubeck’s inspiration. ‘Sometimes my pieces are like postcards’, he writes in his notes and goes some way to explain backgrounds that are not always possible to hear in the music. I See, Satie is a nod in the direction of the French composer Erik Satie who, when he was criticized for lack of form, wrote a piece in the shape of a pear. This is exactly what Brubeck has done: when seeing the printed music one notices that the notes form a pear shape in the last three measures. There are other similar visual gimmicks.

Some of the pieces carry direct allusions to his family life. I Still Am in Love With a Girl Named Oli was written to his wife after six decades of marriage. Joshua Redman was written as a homage to the saxophonist, who recorded this piece with Brubeck in 1995 and Audrey is Audrey Hepburn. I won’t tire you with more background information, only urge you to get the disc and read the notes: well-written and personal.

The music spans from swinging jazz to an impressionism not far removed from Debussy. Dave Brubeck studied, as is well known, with French composer Darius Milhaud so a certain affinity with the French is natural. Milhaud also encouraged Brubeck to include jazz elements in his serious compositions.

Some comments on pieces that caught my interest when listening the first time: the impressionist is heard in Looking at a Rainbow but this is no mere imitation; it has a personal Brubeckian twist. Nostalgia de México is short, simple but catchy. Strange Meadowlark is a song, one of Brubeck’s most performed compositions and can also be heard on Naxos in its vocal shape ( Recuerdo has some jazzy syncopation but also Brubeck’s typical mixing of time-signatures and the thick chords we remember from his jazz recordings. Softly, William, Softly was intended as an aria from a never-completed opera. It’s a nice piece with something of the air of the late night piano bar. The Desert and the Parched Land became a special favourite and so did Memories of a Viennese Park, which is a kind of homage to the Viennese Waltz. Last but definitely not least I must mention the two non-nocturnes: the swinging declaration of love to his Oli and the boogie-woogie tribute to Fats Waller. ‘The first record I ever purchased in my life was a Fats Waller recording’, Brubeck remembers in his notes.

John Salmon is an ideal interpreter of this music and being equally at home in both classical music and jazz he can choose to play the music as written or occasionally introducing improvisation.

The recording is excellent. The music may not be of the barnstorming kind that changes the world but the whole disc is a valuable document of one of the most versatile of American composers.

Göran Forsling


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