Monday, September 14, 2009

Indian Summer for Brubeck

There's always something to set the Jazz world a-buzzing. Right now, many commentators are praising the welcome announcement that Dave Brubeck, at age 88 and counting, will become a Kennedy Center honoree on December 6--the very day he turns 89, in fact. Others are tossing in some tart grapes: why has it taken so long for Dave to be recognized? why 13 years between Jazz inductees? and the colossal question, why no Sonny Rollins yet, for tenor's sake?!

By coincidence, I caught Brubeck with his current quartet performing at Seattle's Jazz Alley just last night. The first thing the elderly, somewhat frail-looking leader did was reminisce about his rhythm section as having been together many years longer than the classic foursome. And after 30-plus years, Bobby Militello, Randy Jones, and "new guy" Michael Moore (only eight years) are certainly aging in place, all of them looking 60 and up.

Fortunately, they also have the blessed, life-enhancing energy of working musicians, playing with the piss and pizzazz of guys just starting out. Moore had a couple of intense, far-ranging plucked solos; Jones drummed Joe Morello right out of town when he took charge of "Take Five" and produced the only drum solo I've stood and cheered for in decades; and Militello was a study in, well, heavyweight altosaxing. This guy moves in a note or two from Paul Desmond lyricism to Art Pepper's outside screams. I admire his stubborn, shifting style, but the ascerbic, even acidic, tone he favors so often made me think of this one-liner: "Who'd have guessed that Dave would replace Desmond's dry martini sound with Bobby's bicarbonate of soda"?

As for indomitable Dave, you can see that bouts of illness have taken their toll. He needs to be helped up and down the stage steps, and his playing, while still pounding angularly and countertempo when so inspired, lacks much of the old power that once could reduce keyboards to kindling. When he spoke, even the piano mike couldn't make that quaver come up loud enough to be easily understood. But his selections were a hoot: "Margie," "Show Me the Way to Go Home," a crowd-pleasing Ellington medley, and a beautiful Classical (or maybe movie) theme for which I just can't pull up the name, but would love to have on disc to hear again and again.

All said, the pianist and his pals were totally charming and winning, well worth the $65 club entry fee and the packed-to-the-rafters scene. So hat's off to Dave Brubeck; and here's hoping December 6th can come soon enough.

Aftermath: I see from Doug Ramsey's Rifftides review that the composition I couldn't name was Brubeck's own "Dziekuje," his Chopin-sounding thanks to Poland, written back in the early touring days. I plead diminished capacity! And I promise to play some version at least five times to revive my failing Memorex...