Lucid Culture


Concert Review: The Dave Brubeck Quartet at Damrosch Park, NYC 8/5/07

A triumph of persistence and spirit. At 87, the legendary jazz pianist is still vital, still evolving. Maybe he’s been pushing the envelope for so long that now it’s pulling him. If Telarc had decided to record this evening’s show, they could have called it Brubeck Plays Blues and Ballads. That this band could turn a pretty standard night of blues and ballads into something as special as they made it says something about the quality of musicians onstage. Dave Brubeck didn’t try any fast righthand runs, not that the device was ever his thing. His approach has always been chordal, his innovations rhythmic, and tonight both were front and center and brilliant. One of Brubeck’s great achievements has been to bring classical and modern classical melodies into jazz, and it was evident that this is still one of his fascinations.

They opened a little shaky with one of the tracks from his forthcoming album Indian Summer, Brubeck joking with the audience about how they were going to be playing it at Newport next week and had to get to know it. But the show came together quickly after that. The best song of the night (Brubeck is a songwriter in the best sense of the word) was a surprisingly saturnine, austere autumn reflection that began with two insistent, pianissimo chords, while the audience was still applauding the previous number. They built quietly and deliberately to the point where bassist Michael Moore took an appropriately haunting, cello-like bowed solo.

The rest of the evening saw sax player Bobby Militello playing leads over Brubeck’s wittily magisterial, minutely intricate chord work, cleverly embellished by drummer Randy Jones’ tasteful cymbal splashes and rimshots. Moore showed a fondness for sliding up to notes for an effect like a trumpet player playing with a mute, or a guitar played through a wah pedal, even while running quickly up the scale, and this was quite gripping. They recast When the Saints Go Marching In in a minor key; the blues numbers had swing and bounce, both Brubeck and Militello taking a few playful bars against the beat when the mood struck them.

The night’s only Kenny G moment came when they tried to make something of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and as much as Brubeck tried to work his way around the melody, the rest of the band following suit, they still ended up somewhere under it. Jazzing up Broadway tunes has long been a way of life for a lot of players, but – Coltrane’s version of My Favorite Things aside – it’s an easy way to end up in quicksand.

At the end of the show, Brubeck admitted almost sheepishly that they hadn’t done much in the way of the odd time signatures that have been his stock in trade for sixty-odd years, so they did one in ten that segued into Take Five, which quickly turned into a very long drum solo. It took a long time to get going, but Jones eventually built it to a hypnotic, tribal war dance, then walked away from it, then came back and finally took it to the head, if only for a few seconds. Brubeck joined the crowd in appreciative, awestruck bliss. He’s a vastly underrated figure, a force of nature, and what a pleasant surprise to be able to see him at a universally affordable price on a shockingly gorgeous night in midtown Manhattan.

And what a pleasant surprise to see how the annual August Lincoln Center Out of Doors series (of which this concert was a part) has picked up the slack where the Central Park Summerstage series fell off the radar. It looks as if some old hippies have taken over the booking here, and are doing a tremendous job: the emphasis is still on world music and Americana, they still have their annual rockabilly and gospel nights, but the quality of performers this year is exceptional. Watch our updated NYC music calendar for this month’s many highlights.

August 6, 2007 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. It was an absolutely fantastic concert. Does anyone know the name of the tune that Bobby Militello soloed in the slow, smooth tone? I think it was the about the 3rd or 4th piece.

    Comment by Audience Member | August 11, 2009 | Reply

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