Thursday 14 March 2013

Concord On A Summer Night

My wife is not a big fan of jazz, so I don’t get to listen to it much whole she’s around.  She likes music with a hook, a simple melody, a reliable rhythm, and an element of comfortable predictability.  If you step outside of those bounds in an effort to express your musical individuality, she’s not going to want to listen.  Here’s a jazz album I think I can get her to sit down to. And it’s a doozy!

Dave Brubeck’s jazz has all of the above attributes, yet somehow manages to “civilize” them into an accessible form.  Take his best-known song “Take Five”.  It has no obvious hook, a melody in 5/4 time, modulations of the beat pattern within extended 5/4 phrases, and extended improvisational solo workouts, yet somehow it is imbued with an easy-to-follow, easy-to-absorb character that is a pre-requisite of “popular” music in its many forms.   Indeed, this this is a pretty fair description of most of Brubeck’s work.

Perhaps one of the aspects of Dave Brubeck is that, while his bands employ musicians of the highest virtuosic quality, virtuosity is never allowed to intrude on the compositions. Brubeck's recordings are always expressions of the music, and never of the musicians.  In Concord On A Summer Night, this becomes especially evident on the ubiquitous Take Five, where Brubeck’s piano playing at one point soars with an orchestral majesty that very few pianists ever deliver, and yet by that time the listener is so absorbed in the music that the virtuosity is just not the focal element – the majestic exposition of the melody just carries you away with it.

Concord On A Summer Night is one of the finest live jazz recordings ever made.  One of these rare events when a magical performance is captured in a magical recording.  It was recorded in Brubeck’s home town, Concord, CA, in 1982, and among other things is notable for inclusion of a clarinet instead of the usual saxophone.  Brubeck was born in Concord in 1920, and his mother was a some-time concert pianist and piano teacher.  Dave had two older brothers who were active musicians, and it was felt that Dave should go into a career as a veterinarian.  At college he was persuaded to switch to music, but even so was nearly expelled when –incredibly – it was discovered that, despite his evident talents, he could not read music!

Happily, Concord On A Summer Night is available as an absolutely superb high-resolution recording from HD Tracks, although, to be fair, the CD version is not too shabby either.  Either way, it is that rare bird – an album that both hard-core jazz fanatics, and those who really don’t like jazz, can agree upon.  One of these nights, when she’s not expecting it, I will play it for my wife!