Brubeck group swings down curtain on Tanglewood Jazz Festival
by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass., September 2, 2002) – Leave it to a quartet of septuagenarian and octogenarian white guys whose combined age must be around 300 to bring down the curtain on the weekend’s Tanglewood Jazz Festival with the hardest-swinging and most musically satisfying set of the entire festival.

In the past decade, the Dave Brubeck Quartet has been a part of the Labor Day weekend jazz festivities more often than not. But never in memory did they put on a show like the one in Ozawa Hall on Sunday night.

One imagines that Brubeck, who was clearly in a feisty good mood, said to his white-haired bandmates before going on, “Let’s just have fun and knock ‘em dead,” because that’s what his group did in two wild and woolly sets of original compositions, standards and blues.

At 82, Brubeck continues to chart new waters, and to prove it he kicked off his set with the title track to his latest recording, “The Crossing.” A lively number inspired by a trans-Atlantic jazz cruise on the QE2, it packed the energy of a rock tune with a Pat Metheny-like melody. It also featured the first of many energetic alto saxophone solos by Bobby Militello, who has never sounded as dynamic. It’s like he woke up one morning transformed into r&b saxophonist Junior Walker. Whatever he’s having for breakfast, give me two.

The quartet, also including drummer Randy Jones and bassist Michael Moore, continued with another new tune, “All My Love,” written for Brubeck’s wife of nearly 60 years, Iola. “Crescent City Stomp” was fueled by a New Orleans funk beat and became a disco romp as Brubeck modulated the chords up the keyboard. The aptly-titled “Elegy” was a quiet, dirge-like piece featuring Militello on flute and a bowed bass solo by Moore. “I Got Rhythm” was pure bebop, as Militello mined the lower registers of the scale on saxophone while Brubeck banged out antiphonal chords before ending the number with a stride-style romp.

Most of the second set seemed made up on the spot, with Brubeck calling out rain- and sun-themed tunes in tribute to the stalwart listeners on the rain-drenched lawn who could only have wished to be “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” which featured a remarkable, four-part fugue-like passage before Brubeck brought it back to the brothel in a gaudy stripper’s march.

Brubeck playfully tricked the audience into thinking he would play “Singin’ in the Rain,” playing the first few phrases before veering into his trademark “Take Five.” But even that tune never sounded like this before, with Militello taking it into uncharted territory and the bandmembers following, with Brubeck playing inverted chords before Jones brought the whole thing to a smashing conclusion with a dynamite drum solo.

If only the Roy Hargrove Quintet, which headlined the afternoon portion of Sunday’s program, had played with half the zest and personality of the Brubeck group. They were skillful players, and particularly on the slower, softer numbers, Hargrove has a warm, beautiful tone on trumpet and flugelhorn. His band, particularly pianist Ronnie Matthews, was terrific, but there was a self-congratulatory air to the performance, as if the players were utterly indifferent to the audience. Hargrove, for his part, said little, and mostly seemed to sleepwalk through the performance, his eyes literally closed most of the time.

Italian vocalist Roberta Gamborini, on the other hand, exuded stage presence and quickly established a warm rapport with her audience – much moreso, say, than did Diana Krall the night before. Gamborini’s trio backed her in a set of standards including “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Devil May Care,” “Daydream” and a particularly gorgeous rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” featuring a spare arrangement that relied totally on Gamborini’s ability to paint emotion with her smooth, pristine voice. She also impressed with some terrific scat singing, playing both Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins in a version of “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” but blowing the crowd away with her trombone-like scat solo on “Everything Happens to Me.”

The day got off to a light-natured start with a short set by Two Siberians, a duo of Russians from Irkutsk, Siberia, 150 miles north of Mongolia. Guitarist Yuri Matveyev and electric violinist Artjom Yakushenko played a fusion of jazz and rock heavily dripping with Russian folk influences. The duo has already recorded an album with Don Byron and Michael Brecker, and Matveyev’s stage presence and sense of humor alone insures that these two will not toil in the nether reaches of Siberia for long.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on September 3, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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