Brubeck Returns to Moscow (2005)

by | Jan 22, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Brubeck Returns to Moscow (2005)

Studio: Lance/Koch Vision KOC-DV-6622
Video: 4:3 full screen color
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo
Extras: Dave’s candid interview with Russian broadcast personality Vladimir Posner (34 min.), Biographies
Length: 114 minutes
Rating: ****

Well, we’ve had the Horowitz in Moscow film and now here’s another renowned pianist of a different sort returning to the Russian capital. In many ways it’s even more moving than the Horowitz documentary.  Brubeck had made a concert appearance on behalf of the U.S. State Department a decade ago.  This time the venue was the famous Bolshoi Hall in the Moscow Conservatory of Music – where all the leading Russian composers and musicians for a century-and-a-half have studied and performed. It was the first time this classical music hall reverberated to the sounds of jazz. (The Tchaikovsky Hall had been the scene of a Russian/U.S. jam session in 1993 when Sheffield Lab recorded their “Gershwin Celebration” album in Moscow.)

The first part of the film covers the arrival of the Brubeck entourage in Moscow and the preparations and rehearsals for the upcoming concert at the Conservatory. Brubeck’s longtime conductor and music director Russell Gloyd is prominent in the film as he struggles to get the Russian choir to properly enunciate the English text of Brubeck’s jazz mass, “To Hope! A Celebration.” At one point he exhorts them, “Let’s get those Zs out of there!”  The challenge with rehearsing the symphony orchestra musicians was that none of them had every played anything other than straight classical works before and trouble “swinging” with Brubeck’s rhythmic score. But approaching it with the seriousness and hard study they would devote to a new score by someone like Schnitke, they eventually got “in the groove.”  Comments to the camera by some of the Russian musicians are very revealing and often touching.

The film covers a jam session with some Russian jazz musicians. In a seminar with Conservatory students one young jazz violinist in the audience suddenly stands up during a Brubeck improvisation on a Russian folk tune and begins improvising with great skill with him. Brubeck reflects in interview segments on his over 50 year career as jazz pianist, composer and ambassador of goodwill throughout the world.  The second half of the documentary begins with a  live performance by the Brubeck Quartet with the symphony orchestra of a special version of his classic Take Five, as arranged by one of Dave’s three sons. The other quartet members, as heard on the band’s several recent recordings, are Bobby Militello on sax, Jack Six on doublebass and Randy Jones on drums.

The final segment is a complete live performance of the jazz mass with the Quartet, male and female soloists, full chorus and symphony orchestra.  The female vocalist is Russian and this was the first time she had sung such an extensive part in English.  The lyrics of To Hope! are often Biblical in origin, with much useage of Alleluias and Amens, but with glorious melodies and swinging rhythms.  There are improvisatory breaks in the work for Dave and his Quartet to cut loose. The audience closeups at all the concerts show they are generally rapt with attention and enthusiasm. One can only imagine the mental leaps they are making, many being confronted for the first time by not only the mix of jazz and classical but the mix of Christian gospel and humanism in the words to Brubeck’s liturgical music.  The creative filmmaking, DVD transfer quality and stereo soundtrack are all first rate. This should be on PBS – but I don’t believe it has been.

– John Sunier

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