Freddy Cole and Dave Brubeck Quartets at the Kimmel Center, Philadelphia
Brubeck obviously enjoys taking traditional tunes and toying with them in novel ways. Thus, on "The Sunny Side of the Street" and "Margie," he made the most of the ragtime, stride and boogie woogie rhythms he loves, while taking them well past Thelonious Monk into a hypermodern stratosphere, where he and the group made rich use of polyrhythms, unusual meters, and sudden shifts in timing to offer a virtual grand relativistic tour of the geometry of time that no doubt Albert Einstein would have appreciated. Brubeck knows how to bend and trick time into doing what he wants, and he has always managed to put together groups that can do this too. Brubeck's ingenuity was complemented on "Margie" by a spectacular bebop solo during which altoist Bobby Militello invoked Bird, and a beautiful bowed bass solo by the master, Michael Moore, whose playing at times was stunningly evocative of the iconic jazz violinist, Stephane Grapelli.
Next, Brubeck showed himself to be equally at home interpreting ballads with a rare combination of simplicity and complexity inspired by his classical mentor, Darius Milhaud. In his "Theme For June," he began with a reflective solo that was sharply contrasted with a brassy saxophone solo by Militello, followed by some Bach-like fugal choruses with fine rhythmic help from the brilliant Randy Jones on drums (once the generating plant in Maynard Ferguson's most rock-oriented big band), and ending with a romantic-style piano solo in the manner of Chopin or Rachmaninoff. What can't they do? "Crescent City Stomp" took a standard blues progression and repeated it to a near-death experience, perhaps milking it a bit beyond what it is worth. But the piece was redeemed by Militello's double-time sax solo, which broke up the encroaching ennui with an infectious excitement.
A piece, apparently entitled "Sleep" (for reasons which only he could explain, Brubeck did not announce the names of the tunes; this reviewer had to make inquiries about some of them afterwards), began with a Debussy-like impressionist solo by Brubeck which soon evolved into a duet with Militello on flute, while Jones used felt-tipped tympani mallets to enhance the impressionist feel. Another gorgeous bass solo by Moore and a beautiful flute and bowed bass duet added to the haunting quality of what virtually could have been the slow movement of a symphony. Another reflective ballad, "Elegy," done entirely by Brubeck as a piano solo, served as a fine "postlude" and commentary.
Returning to ragtime flourishes, the quartet's rendition of "These Foolish Things" had an air of sentimentality, representing a "spoof" on this timeless standard, further echoing the past via Militello's soloing in a style reminiscent of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.
The set concluded withwhat else would you expect?"Take Five." This version clearly marked this quartet's difference from the earlier Brubeck group, being more energetic and less "cool" than the popular original version which still frequently airs on radio. Fireworks ensued when Randy Jones let loose on drums and drove the audience (if you'll pardon the expression) "wild." It was natural to want to compare Jones to Joe Morello, but the successor took his own unique path, somewhat suggestive of Gene Krupa on LSD. As a result, "Take Five" will never be the same for this listener.
The audience, understandably aroused by this stellar performance, insisted by their applause and cheers on an encore. The group came out, apparently to indulge in another excursion, but simply did a brief version of the traditional "Lullaby, and goodnight..." Brubeck does Brahms, which got them off the hook consistent with the kind and gentle manner which this remarkable musician has maintained over these many years. There were no complaints.