If, as the song says, everything must change and nothing stays the same, Dave Brubeck has not heard about it. The concert Saturday by his quartet at Santa Monica College was virtually identical in repertory as well as personnel to what he has been offering at similar events over the past several years.
Bill Smith, who first teamed with Brubeck in a 1947 octet and who has spent much of the past decade with him, was still playing clarinet in a lucid, free-wheeling manner, occasionally inviting us into his echo chamber to hear his impression of two or three clarinetists coming out of one multiphonic horn.
Bassist Jack Six, who first joined the group in 1968, made his presence felt in a somewhat insistent manner that was aggravated by a noisy sound system. Randy Jones is still on hand at the drums.
Playing his customary mixture of standards, long popular originals, and a couple of excerpts from extended concert works, Brubeck suffered from the tinny sound and intermittent hum that emerged from the giant speakers. After intermission things improved. His solos still tend to give the impression that his hands are playing metric games with each other, usually three-against-four, and of course there are the time signatures that once sounded so daring: "Take Five" in 5/4, "Unsquare Dance" in 7/4, "Blue Rondo a la Turk" in 9/8.
There were a few relaxed moments, as when Brubeck opened "Here's That Rainy Day" as a piano solo, but soon Six took it away from him. The most naturally swinging sounds of the evening emanated from Smith's horn, particularly during some lively counterpoint in which he and the leader engaged on "Yesterdays."
Brubeck's immense popularity has enabled him to coast. One longs for a few innovative additions to his program. He is too gifted an artist just to go through motions.