Online since August 2002

More talent than hype – still

Reviewed May 2005

London Flat, London Sharp
London Flat, London Sharp
By Dave Brubeck

Telarc Records: 2005

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

I keep reading that pianist Dave Brubeck has fallen into critical disfavor in the jazz world. Listening to his latest release, "London Flat, London Sharp", a vibrant and fresh-sounding set full of virtuosic execution and truly inspired, forward-looking sounds, it's hard to understand why.

Maybe it's because he's sold a lot of records. That type of thing seems to inspire critical sniping. Brubeck's "Time Out" from 1959 (featuring alto saxophonist Paul Desmond) and the most famous song from that set, "Take 5," each sold more than a million copies. Unheard of in jazz, then and now. For many jazz fans of a certain age, myself included, "Take 5" was the first experience with the music.

But 1959 was a long time ago. Who'd have thought Brubeck could maintain his status as a vital artist in the sixth decade of his career? "London Flat, London Sharp" proves he has.

The quartet configuration – piano/bass/drums with a saxophone out front – is one of the most common formats in jazz, a sound that, in lesser hands, can get a bit stale to the ear. Brubeck, with Bobby Militello on alto sax, Michael Moore on bass and Randy Jones on drums, goes after a bunch of the pianist's songs here, old and new, playing them with a youthful fire in the belly. Had I heard this one blind I might have guessed a young, hungry and very talented group – that is, if I hadn't recognized Brubeck's cerebral eloquence and engaging complexity behind Militello's brusque, tangy tone and edgy and often intense ideas.

It's hard to single out highlights on such a solid set, but the title tune starts things rolling with a "train songish" forward momentum; and Brubeck sounds amazing here, with "...my left hand moving down chromatically in flats while my right hand moves up chromatically in sharps." That sounds impossible to do. I'm not sure how many musicians would make the attempt, but it comes out feeling oddly colorful and glowingly alive behind Militello's hard-driving alto.

"London Flat, London Sharp" is a first-rate jazz disc, not in the mode of "Isn't it great; the old guy can still play pretty good." More like "Man, the young cats ought to listen to this; they got some things to learn."

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

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