Dan Brubeck Quartet – Live from the Cellar: Celebrating the Music and Lyrics of Dave & Iola Brubeck – Blue Forest Records BFR DB15001, 41:44, 44:59 (2 CDs) – Recorded live August 2013 at The Cellar, Vancouver, B.C. ****1/2:
(Steve Kaldestad – saxophone; Tony Foster – piano; Adam Thomas – vocals, bass; Dan Brubeck – drums)
It is more than appropriate for drummer Dan Brubeck to honor his parents, Dave and Iola Brubeck, in Dan’s recording debut. What makes this two CD issue even more special is the fact that Dan chose to record his parents’ songbook with a major emphasis on the lyrics that accompanied the compositions. Dave Brubeck is most known for his instrumental discography, and not so much for the lyrics that he and his wife, Iola, composed. Many of the song titles are well known, but most fans of Brubeck may have been unaware that there were lyrics as well. Many of these tracks had been performed before by Carmen McRae throughout her career. Dave Brubeck passed away at age 91 in 2012, and Iola died last year at age 90. Iola had the chance to comment on the majority of the tracks (included with the liner notes) on this double CD before she passed away.
Dan Brubeck lives in Vancouver, B.C, as do the members of his quartet, and they chose the live venue of The Cellar, in town, to record this tribute issue during the month of August in 2013. Credit goes to the quartet’s bassist (and vocalist), Adam Thomas, who engineered the recording as well as doing the mixing and mastering. Adam also assisted with the arrangement and production with Dan. The acoustics for a live recording are exemplary. I found Thomas’ vocals to be engaging, and with few exceptions his voice was a good fit for the often melancholy mood that the songs’ lyrics exemplified.
“In Your Own Sweet Way” opens Disk 1. It is one of the most well known Brubeck ballads, and Thomas has a tender, lightly swinging vocal style (both here and throughout this project) that is pleasing to the ear with a clear enunciation that gives the listener time to both take in and marvel at the lyrics. It is followed by “Since Love Had Its Way,” written for Louis Armstrong, on The Real Ambassadors recording that Dave recorded with Satchmo back in 1961. Steve Kaldestad has a swinging solo here.
“Summer Song” is based on an improvisation on “Over the Rainbow,” and was made famous by Armstrong and also was performed by Carmen McRae. Words from this track are engraved on Dave and Iola’s cemetery plot. “Autumn in Our Town” is given a melancholy reading and is deeply touching, bringing on feelings of an old contented couple looking out their window on leaves falling in their town. Kaldestad has a sax solo that would be at home in the hands of Paul Desmond. “Lord, Lord” written as a minor blues, was a major classical work for Dave Brubeck. It was part of The Gates of Justice project that has been used to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Iola Brubeck’s lyrics are wrenching, and Kaldestad’s sax solo is masterful. The quartet ends the first disc with one of Dave’s most famous compositions, “Blue Rondo A La Turk.”
Disk 2 features “The Desert and The Parched Land,” from Dave Brubeck’s 1979 issue, Mass: To Hope. Its verses are religious in nature. Pianist Tony Foster’s introductory solo sets the stage for its lyrics. “For Iola” written by Dave for his wife shares their seventy year plus bond. Of historical value is the inclusion of “Weep No More,” the first song that Dave wrote with lyrics. It was composed after VE Day 1945, when Dave was with Patton’s’ troops in Germany. The lyrics are a mix of sadness and hope. No Dave Brubeck tribute would be complete without the inclusion of “Take Five” and the quartet’s version clocks in at over 14 minutes, more than double the length of any other track on the two discs.
Fans of the Brubeck family members will find much to treasure in this 2 CD set. It is a real eye opener to discover the lyrical talents of Iola Brubeck…
In Your Own Sweet Way, Since Love Had Its Way, Summer Song, It’s a Raggy Waltz, Autumn in Our Town, Lord, Lord; Ode to a Cowboy, Blue Rondo A La Turk
Strange Meadowlark, The Desert and the Parched Land, For Iola, The Duke, Weep No More, Take Five