Dave Brubeck & Friends, Wonderfully Familiar

Monday, July 3, 2006

The Dave Brubeck Quartet may not be the youngest guys on the jazz circuit, but you certainly couldn't tell it from their playing. In a short set, performed as part of a concert with the Cathedral Choral Society at Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, they sounded their comfortingly familiar selves. The 85-year-old Brubeck's keyboard work was as pert and elegantly turned as ever. Alto sax player Bobby Militello contributed a sultry, pitch-bending solo to "Stormy Weather," and in the Brubeck classic "Take Five," drummer Randy Jones matched the energy of Militello's melodic deconstructions with an extended, cumulatively thunderous solo. Michael Moore's spare, chiseled bass riffs were, unfortunately, inadequately miked to register effectively in the space.

The bulk of the program was devoted to Brubeck's large-scale 1969 choral work "The Gates of Justice" -- written as a musical plea for unity between the Jewish and African American communities in this country. If the piece bears audible influences of everything from "Porgy and Bess" to Britten's War Requiem to traditional Anglican church services, it ultimately speaks in its own voice -- especially when, for instance, a fervent choral hymn gives way to a hard-driving jazz improvisation based on Hebraic melodies.

Tenor Christopher Pfund and bass-baritone Kevin Deas were distinguished soloists, the Washington Symphonic Brass made an aptly imposing sound, and the Choral Society contributed its customary, sensitively blended work, though it was also a victim of under-miking.

-- Joe Banno

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