This is a decent Brubeck compilation, not perfect but good enough and the best you’re likely to get this late in the game—so far. (Brubeck is now 86 but still performing.) CD1 features Concord Jazz selections from 1979 to 1987 and those on CD2 are from 1993 to 2004 Telarc albums. (Note that these are all live performances with more applause than usual.) The set opens with the peripatetic Yesterdays and segues into other numbers of intriguing variety and shifting musical value. The Koto Song is moody and atmospheric, and the signature piece Take Five is vastly nostalgic. It was highly appreciated by its Soviet audience, particularly with its clever quote from the first theme of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.
Several of the pieces on the first disc are tributes to jazz greats, like Dizzy’s Dream, Black and Blue (Fats Waller), and Big Bad Basie. You won’t hear any tributes to Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, or Keith Jarrett in Brubeck, perhaps because he, although a competent and entertaining performer, lacks the type of imagination and humor that these figures thrive on. He does hire excellent horn personnel like Paul Desmond on alto sax (who doesn’t appear on these discs), and Jerry Bergonzi and Bobby Militello (who do). Bergonzi is on the first disc and provides a hard bop feel, while Militello is the sax on the second disc and gives wild Birdian riffs to pieces like Cherokee and I Got Rhythm. In fact, whenever he plays, the piece takes off. Similarly Bill Smith on clarinet gives inspired post-bop swing to Reflections of You. Blue Lake Tahoe is another number on which he appears with Brubeck. It’s a dandy piece, with Brubeck infusing an inventive meter into his solos and Smith providing a dense and rarified atmosphere.
Chris Brubeck, Dave’s son, plays two instruments: bass and trombone. He plays trombone on Black and Blue. The fellow is skilled on the instrument, but he’s a bit too controlled and lacks improvisational skills. The duet with his father is poorly arranged and a bit clunky toward the end. Far more polished on the bass than Chris is Michael Moore (no, not that one!) on Disc 2. His solo on Love for Sale is sweet and sprightly, and throughout the disc he provides a subtle presence. Generally, Brubeck’s playing can be lyrical and smooth as silk, as it is on The Things You Never Remember, but there are times when it is ham-fisted, like he gets stuck in a groove and pounds repeatedly at chords he likes (his solo on Big Bad Basie). If you’re introducing Brubeck to a friend, first play an earlier release from the fifties or sixties to provide perspective. Then try this one. [Right – like Andre Previn’s jazz, I liked him better then than now…Ed.]
— Peter Bates