CD SPOTLIGHT : Brubeck Knows What's in a Name


"Young Lions & Old Tigers"


* * *

Dave Brubeck's inherent musical curiosity has always made him receptive to a wide range of musical styles. In this new collection of duet performances, he runs the gamut from some gifted Young Lions--Joshua Redman, Christian McBride and Roy Hargrove--to such middle-generation players as Joe Lovano and Michael Brecker to old tigers Gerry Mulligan, Jon Hendricks and George Shearing.

It's not a bad idea on the face of it, but what makes the recording even more fascinating are the compositions--based on the names of the musicians--written by Brubeck to frame each of the tracks. Roy Hargrove's name, for example, emerges as a languid jazz ballad. Michael Brecker and Joshua Redman trigger waltzes, and Joe Lovano's name becomes the bass figure for a tango.

It's a concept that might easily have degenerated into silly contrivances, but if Brubeck can do anything, he can compose a lovely melody. And, in almost every case, the themes not only spell out the players' names, they provide meaty substance for individual expression and variation.

Every track has its unique rewards. But the high points would have to include the whimsical "Moody," in which the effervescent James Moody sings--to an incongruously minor tune--"Moody? Why does everybody call Me Moody?" The long, chromatic line fashioned on the seven syllables of fluegelhornist Ronnie Buttacavoli's name is a captivating melody, regardless of its gestation source. And the rondo-like theme written for and performed with Mulligan is a delightfully amiable characterization of the veteran baritone saxophonist.

Brubeck's playing is first-rate throughout, effortlessly adaptable to the far-reaching styles of his all-star associates. As he approaches his 75th birthday (in December), he is producing some of the most imaginatively rich, creatively thoughtful work of his distinguished career.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good, recommended), four stars (excellent).

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World