Music Reviews

Dave Brubeck Quartet

Park Avenue South


I received Park Avenue South for review not long after I saw jazz doyen Dave Brubeck in perform live with a similar setlist and an identical line-up – Bobby Militello (alto sax and flute), Michael Moore (bass) and Randy Jones (drums) – from the third row of The Anvil in Basingstoke, a much-maligned town about an hour train ride west of London. Therefore it’s quite possible that that flawless performance has colored my opinion of the CD, although I would argue that it’s difficult to overrate perfection.

Recorded live at Starbuck’s (at 29th and Park Avenue South, hence the album’s title) on July 10 and 11 of last year, Park Avenue South does not overtly push toward any particularly new concepts or techniques as far as jazz is concerned. Leave that debatable progression up to free jazzmen like Joe McPhee, or the more melodic Dune Records artists like Denys Baptiste and Soweto Kinch. What it does offer is the solid, intelligent, breathtaking performance that the eminently talented Brubeck and his loyal hired guns have been giving for nigh on five decades, since he completed his formal education under Darius Milhaud and became a college favorite with albums like Time Out and Jazz Goes to College. Now 84 years old, Brubeck is still jamming harder and swinging faster than nearly any young upstart you can name.

Brubeck’s jaunty piano line kicks off the first track, the old standard “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Militello soon joins his stride with a style of playing that belies a hint of Paul Desmond’s silky texture as well as the casual control of Joe Lovano. Next Brubeck steps forward with an extended solo that pushes and tugs the tempo before passing the spotlight back to Militello, who closes the tune after the seven-minute mark. Moore’s plucky, bluesy bassline takes the group into Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale,” urged along by Brubeck and Militello; the bassist gets his chance for an understated solo after four minutes. The bandleader then makes a confident but modest statement with the help of Jones, who underscores several phrases with a lightning-quick kick drum and snare combo. Militello picks up the flute and Moore his bow for the acutely tender “Elegy,” composed for the Norwegian art critic and jazz fan Randi Hultin; both musicians are, strangely and wonderfully for such a personal song, given priority over the piano.

“Don’t Forget Me,” a recent Brubeck composition, begins like a ballad and then transitions into a delicious sax-led groove. Jones’ drumming here is superb, a nimble dance along the high hat with regular slaps on the snare. Jones truly comes into his own later in the album with a mesmerising solo on the signature Brubeck Quartet staple “Take Five,” thus titled for its challenging 5/4 time signature, and written by the late Paul Desmond at the request of Joe Morello, the quartet’s much-envied drummer, before creeping blindness stopped him from touring. Jones, a veteran drummer, does not make the mistake of imitating the inimitable on “Take Five” or any other tune for that matter. On Park Avenue South he is consistently witty, adroit and never, never disappoints.

Jazz aficionados and music lovers in general will find on this album the same qualities that have made Brubeck and his handpicked quartet so popular throughout jazz’s heyday, the lean years of the seventies and eighties, and on into the gradual resurgence of over the past ten years or so. Beneath the surface of that familiar melody or carefully executed solo something more is at work, a subtle intellect and a sublime unity. Park Avenue South is, like so many in Brubeck’s oeuvre, a five-star album, an all but essential addition to any music collection.

Telarc Jazz:

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