Definitely Brubeck


Dave Brubeck celebrates his 90th birthday on Dec. 16. Concord Music Group celebrates the pianist's decades of musical accomplishment just a bit earlier with the November release of the two-disc The Definitive Dave Brubeck On Fantasy, Concord Jazz And Telarc.

Something about the sound of Brubeck reminds me of classical Russian composers such as Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky: Not so much a sound or even a style so much as an approach, forged in steel-eyed discipline yet with an overflowing, sympathetic and passionate heart that thunders through the pianist's expansive, almost cinematic chords.

At the same time, other aspects of Brubeck's playing -- brilliantly displayed through his solo "(Variations on) Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" and rollicking run through "Lulu's Back In Town" -- pursue an unquestionably, unapologetically American popular muse, even if just material. He picks out the beginnings of his "Sweet Georgia Brown" solo from the last shimmering threads of Cal Tjader's turn on vibes, and loses himself in memories of "(Back Home Again In) Indiana."

Brubeck's duet with Paul Desmond paints gorgeous colors in "Over The Rainbow." His rippling piano tumbles down a melodic waterfall with Bill Smith's clarinet in "Koto Song," perhaps the most beautiful of many Definitive moments. Smith's clarinet lights the fuse for two tunes recorded in Moscow: W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues," which Smith swings like he's caught between the flaming ghosts of Sidney Bechet and Benny Goodman; and an airy "Take Five," into which Brubeck also tosses phrases of Shostakovich.

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    Over The Rainbow

    Dave Brubeck & Paul Desmond, from Dave ...