Say the words "jazz piano" in almost any conversation, and two other words are bound to follow almost immediately: Dave Brubeck.
Now in the eighth decade of his life and the sixth of his career, Brubeck remains one of the most prolific and influential jazz artists of any generation. An innovator since his earliest recordings, Brubeck has spent most of his life gathering and mastering an infinite cross section of musical and cultural nuances—from every corner of the globe and from every facet of the melodic and rhythmic spectrum—and grafting them to the American jazz tradition. Despite it's unconventional 5/4 time signature, his infectious but legendary "Take Five" has become one of the most familiar melodies in the American jazz canon.
More than forty years after "Take Five"—and the pivotal Time Out, the 1959 Columbia album that spawned the track—Brubeck's exploratory instincts remain as passionate and insightful as ever. The Crossing, his twelfth release on the Telarc label, is inspired in large part by his affinity for world travel and the wealth of experiences that have come with it. The nine tracks represent the organic cross-fertilization of cultures at the core of all great art.
Brubeck opens the set with the complex, multi-rhythmic title track, a piece crafted to capture the tension and momentum of a mighty cruise ship pulling out of the harbor. It's followed by the much quieter, dreamlike "Day After Day," which Brubeck wrote to honor the 50th birthday of his saxophonist, Bobby Militello. "It has the kind of chord progression that Bobby likes to play on, and sort of a 'bossa' feel, and the bass ostinato is reminiscent of the Spanish guitar," says Brubeck.
Further in, Brubeck pays tribute to the two most important women in his life with "All My Love" and "Bessie." The first is a luminous and romantic ballad written for his wife, Iola, during a vacation on Maui in 1998. The second was composed in memory of Olga Johanna Elizabeth Rengstroffsky Ivey Brubeck, better known in Brubeck's family as "Bessie." "Someone asked me how come an 80-year-old man would write a piece of music dedicated to his mother," Brubeck recalls. "I can only say that maybe it takes that long to understand how much the mother nurtures the man. She started me on piano when I was so young that I cannot remember a time when I did not play."
Other highlights include "¿Por Que No?" ("Why Not?"), a composition that juxtaposes a Latin rhythm and an otherwise classical structure, and "Randy Jones," a tribute to the drummer who has been the rhythmic driver of Brubeck's quartet for the last 20 years. The set closes with the noble melody of "Hold Fast To Dreams," the theme from the suite of vocal settings of Langston Hughes poems that Brubeck composed in 1998.
Originally a student of classical music, Brubeck led a service band during World War II, and later led an experimental octet comprised of classmates from Mills College who explored unconventional time signatures and polytonality. By the 1950s, he'd scaled back to a quartet, which scored a huge hit in 1960 with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond's "Take Five." The group disbanded in 1967, but Brubeck worked steadily throughout the '70s and '80s with a variety of musicians, including saxophonists Gerry Mulligan and Jerry Bergonzi, and his sons Darius (keyboards), Chris (electric bass and trombone) and Danny (drums).
The Crossing is the latest chapter in Brubeck's prolific 13-year association with Telarc. He was a guest artist on the label's Big Band Hit Parade (CD-80177) in 1988, then released an ambitious ten albums on Telarc between 1994 and 2000. Just a few months after the release of Double Live from the USA and UK (CD-83400) in early 2001, he brings all of his creative and innovative powers to bear at The Crossing. Step to the other side and hear what has made Dave Brubeck a legend in jazz piano.