Listening to Dave Brubeck, now 88, at the helm of his current quartet is like bathing in the river of jazz. All tears for the lost vigor of Brubeck’s youth are wiped away by the sheer vitality of this man’s talent and heroic attitude. Clad in a white suit and visibly frail, Brubeck joked in his customary droll and self-deprecating manner during the pauses between songs, then proceeded to swing hard through two full sets of material that ranged from Chopin to Duke Ellington and included several selections from his classic 1959 album Time Out. The Ellington came first, selected by Brubeck in response to a recent brush with Duke Ellington Month in Washington, D.C. Duke was a mentor to Brubeck, we were told, and got him his first gig in New York City. He also toured with Brubeck back when the slim, bespectacled pianist could still be mistaken for a graduate student.
Brubeck’s quartet-with Bobby Militello on alto sax and flute, Michael Moore on bass, and Randy Jones on drums-played “C Jam Blues,” “Mood Indigo,” and “Take the ‘A’ Train” perfectly from memory, with outstanding solos by Moore and Militello. At times, Militello’s soulful playing echoed the bittersweet gorgeousness of Johnny Hodges’s alto.
This being the 50th anniversary of Time Out, the foursome have been all over the world contending with the expectation that they will play the album in its entirety. For his return to the Lobero-a venue that clearly means a great deal to Brubeck, as his dear mother and older brother Henry both lived in Santa Barbara for many years-he chose generously from the anniversary vault, offering the tasty “Three to Get Ready,” the sublime “Blue Rondo la Turk,” and the immortal “Take Five.”
Yet on this night, even “Take Five” paled in comparison to the deep blue of “Blue Rondo,” which Brubeck identified as his most difficult composition. And so another year was added to the ongoing musical miracle that is the career of Dave Brubeck, the man who ought to be the composer laureate of California.