Tanglewood saved the best for last - a Sunday night performance by Dave Brubeck that was nothing less than a triumph
Tanglewood's 15th annual Labor Day jazz festival weekend opened with two distinct sides of Latin jazz that together offered a shifting balm for a mild end-of-summer evening. Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias' quartet offered the cool and warm portions of the evening, with a long set that covered her lilting approach to the American Songbook and many tunes from its Brazilian equivalent, particularly from Antonio Carlos Jobim's chapter. Eddie Palmieri closed the evening with a hot, yet too-brief performance by the latest edition of his 11-piece band La Perfecta II. The audience was clapping in unison before the first tune was done. By mid-set, they were standing and swaying at their seats. By the end, it was a full-blown Latin dance party, with many dancing in the aisles for the final two tunes. Marian McPartland was a Saturday highlight with a two-set matinee taping of her acclaimed NPR Piano Jazz series. This day's musical conversation featured impressive 19-year-old Taylor Eigsti. Their humor and appreciation for each other's musical approaches was as delightful as their playing. The California teenager showed a strong command of the instrument and the jazz songbook. And he artfully dropped a hint of McPartland's musical theme into one of his solo adventures. One spontaneous "free piece" found them grabbing each other's musical hints and extending the thought. McPartland was fascinated when Eigsti plucked at strings inside his piano for an offsetting sound as she played the traditional way. Eigsti also offered a strong run of bass notes behind her melodic ideas as together they sounded like something one might expect to hear from Cecil Taylor. The sloping lawn outside the sonically luscious Seiji Ozawa Hall was jammed as far as the eye could see, and perhaps beyond, for a Sunday matinee featuring the entire roster of Branford Marsalis' impressive year-old Marsalis Music jazz label. None was more impressive than the opener, young alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon's quartet. The band, featuring pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Antonio Sanchez, is extending the Danilo Perez/David Sanchez tradition of pushing contemporary Latin jazz with bop underpinnings into fresh new territory. Harry Connick Jr., who was a headline draw at the Koussevitsky Music Shed the prior evening, did a 45-minute acoustic quartet set bringing him back to his pre-crooner piano roots. There was no coasting with drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts propelling the band. Guitarist Doug Wamble offered a set of sophisticated Delta-rooted jazz and blues. After a showcase for pianist Joey Calderazzo, saxophonist Branford Marsalis closed out the afternoon with his band's take on shifting melancholy moods, highlighted by "Gloomy Sunday" from his new CD (Eternal). Tanglewood saved the best for last - a Sunday night performance by Dave Brubeck that was nothing less than a triumph - in structure and in delivery. The piano legend performed the first half with his customary quartet with alto saxophonist Bobby Militello, bassist Michael Moore and drummer Randy Jones. Brubeck brought the performance back to his '50s Berkshires jazz roots with the Second Movement of "Dialogue for Jazz Combo and Symphony Orchestra" - which his brother Howard wrote around the time he was studying classical composition at Tanglewood with Leonard Bernstein. Dave, meanwhile, was a mile or so down the road at The Music Inn in Lenox, which helped encourage New England's burgeoning jazz movement. Brubeck & Co. then stretched "Someday My Prince Will Come" into 12/4 time, offered a new piece called "London Flats and London Sharps" and another Brubeck original titled "Elegy" that showcased Moore's bass work and Militello on flute.
That was just a warmup for the closing set, which teamed Brubeck's quartet with a 23-piece symphonette. The string ensemble added a cushion and reinforcing accents for his works, be they jazz, classical - or pieces that combined them with ease. "Unsquare Dance" had the strings playing all of the odd touches and vigor of the original. "Brandenberg Gate" and "Regret" were beautiful celebrations of Brubeck's quirky compositional genius. Highlight-reel versions of "Blue Rondo a la Turk" and "Take Five" also benefited from the lush treatments. Militello's blistering alto solo on "Blue Rondo" had many on stage watching and listening in astonishment and Brubeck adding his own reinventions and new transitions. Militello and Jones were in the spotlight on "Take Five" with strings. The classic tune is Brubeck's encore or set closer more often than not. It was intended as the finale, but the crowd demanded more. The Brubeck quartet and symphonette performed Brahms' "Lullabye" - a humorous and fitting ending to a very special night.