Diplomacy in 9/8 that influenced Dave and inspired some of his own compositions. While in Istanbul, the Brubecks tell us, Dave heard the wild beats of street musicians in Istanbul and “determined the time signature was in 9/8, wrote a melody that fit the rhythmic pattern,” and “borrowed the Rondo form from classical music.”
The result, of course, was the phenomenal Blue Rondo a la Turk—to this day, one of my favorite pieces. The thing about the 9/8 time—stop me if you’ve heard this—was that it was not in an expected 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Rather, it was performed as 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3.
Enter the Brubeck Brothers Quartet version of the piece. Dave’s original started off with this exquisite piano work but the Brothers kick it off Dan pounding out the rhythm on the hand drum, particularly the doumbek, a Middle Eastern drum. After several bars, the piano joins in for only a measure and the doumbek takes over again. The result is what Dave was trying to show all along, the driving and intoxicating rhythms of the streets of Istanbul.
Far More Blue is another Dave Brubeck original that the Quartet bends to their own will. It starts in its own leisurely 4/4—the standard Jazz time for so many years before Dave’s influence—before launching into a lively 5/4 and a whole new ball game with its own nod and wink to Take Five.
It’s got to be said, Chuck Lamb is one brave soul to sit the piano on Dave’s great parts. And he does not disappoint, not once. The 5/4 groove is great fun as Chris on bass and Dan on drums work their own magic on this great tune, even as Mike DiMicco gets his turn to solo. Then Dan turns loose in a wonderful wrangling of all things percussive.
It was difficult to move past this track. I kept coming back just for the sheer enjoyment of it.
Easy As You Go highlights Chris on trombone in a smooth (I mean that it in a good way) Jazz noir rendering of the lyrics written by Iola Brubeck. Chris explains, “This tune is really an example of the amazing partnership my parents had and how Dave’s music and Iola’s lyrics really informed each other. That’s why I’m particularly conscious of the phrasing on this tune.”
It is a son’s loving tribute to the talents of his parents.
Since Love Had Its Way is another Dave original and features an extraordinary guitar solo by DiMicco. All the while, Chris, Dan, and Chuck keep the swing going. Then we get a Chris bass solo with some scat. This is a fun tune.
Boundward Home is a remarkable piece by Chuck Lamb. DiMicco’s guitar alongside Lamb’s piano is tight and beautiful. In an album of Dave Brubeck pieces, I was surprised to find myself so taken with a tune from someone other than a Brubeck. He must have been adopted by them.
Boundward Home is an expeditionary ¾ number that the Brubecks say portrays “the spirit of adventure crossing the oceans.”
Remember, the State Department Tour took the Brubecks on a cultural exchange across the planet, into the perceived hostility of Eastern Europe and into the Middle East. Ambassadorship and adventure are the key elements of the tour and this album.
A piece not from the 1958 tour but still echoing the theme is Tritonis. Reinterpreted in a current framework, the tune is simply gorgeous in an album overtaken with beauty and imagination and, from there, into frenetic rhythms and intricacies of melody, harmony, and rhythm in The Golden Horn. DiMicco takes a solo that allows you to slow your heart-rate for a few seconds before he upends the hearer on his own.
The Golden Horn may be the most exciting track on the album and that is saying something.
Chris contributed 3 Wise Men with its imagery of camels and desert quests. While there may not be a sense of urgency, there is the feeling of commitment and determination as they pass sandy dunes, infrequent oases, and unexpected winds. This is almost a Jazz tone poem.
Mike DiMicco composed North Coast with its unabashedly modern, even urban, turn of a phrase or two. His guitar work is sweet stuff and the rhythm section swings straight ahead. This tune itself is well worth the price of admission.
Prime Directive is Chuck Lamb’s imagining of Dave Brubeck’s instructions from the State Department to “conquer hearts and minds with Jazz.” Silly politicians. Jazz does not conquer. It makes alliances.
But these guys certainly spike your drink with their virtuosity, honesty, and imagination.
Thank You (Dziekuje) concludes the album. It is an original Dave piece that was written on the occasion of his visiting Chopin’s house. The Brothers turn the tune into a slow bossa nova and is a fitting, even emotional, acknowledgment to the countries Dave visited, to Dave for his artistry and heart, and to people of goodwill.
What a wonderful, wonderful album.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl