I’ve had a very good year jazz legend wise. In the last six months I’ve had the honor of seeing Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Dave Brubeck play live. As all of these great artists are now closer to one hundred than fifty years old, I note with sorrow that it is an experience that I’m unlikely to repeat. While I realize that at their age that none of them was at their peak form, what I felt from each of them was a deep knowledge and intelligence in each note they played. The energy of youth had been replaced with a deeper feeling and experience that made their playing more sublime than powerful. The depth that age brings can be just as seductive as the pyrotechnics of younger players.
This edition of The Dave Brubeck Quartet includes veterans Randy Jones on drums, Robert Militello on saxophone and flute and Michael Moore on bass. Brubeck left the lead roles to these worthy musicians who solidly carried the evening. Militello is in the tough role of being compared to Paul Desmond, who played on most of the pieces that the audience was familiar with as he was the composer and the sound that made Take Five a big hit. However he admirably struck out on his own instead of trying to reproduce the Desmond sound. It has often been said that Desmond was the sound of a dry martini, but Militello would have none of that as his playing had a rougher, more dramatic edge than the svelte playing of Desmond. On bass Moore was nothing short of stunning, but the highlight of the evening was two drum solos by Jones, which included a fitting show stopper on Take Five.
The fact that Brubeck played two sets of almost an hour each as he closes in on his 90th birthday is amazing. While he left a lot of the evening to his bandmates, his quiet, elegant solos reminded that you were in the presence of greatness. As I write this I am listening to his latest recording Dave Brubeck Indian Summer, which is a subtle and gorgeously complex solo effort. It is a brilliant and compelling recording. Fortunately he had the energy to share a few pieces of this beauty with the audience at this concert. The passion which this quiet, restrained recording radiates is nothing short of stunning.
The evening inevitably concluded with Take Five, but the quartet transformed the almost fifty year old standard into an energetic and fresh interpretation that thrilled the entire audience from jazz novices to aficionados. For me I left feeling privileged to have been given this experience as I often wonder if you can really understand a jazz artist if you don’t see them play live. One thing for sure, as often as I’ve heard Take Five, it will always sound more alive to me now that I have seen Brubeck play.
Below is the same Quartet that I saw perform in a 2006 concert.