Review of 2013 Pittsfield CityJazz Festival

By Richard Houdek, first published 10/22/2013, Berkshire Eagle.

The late Dave Brubeck was very much a presence around the Colonial Theatre Saturday evening as two of his sons and their colleagues offered their concert tribute to that great American pianist and composer.

The Brubeck Brothers Quartet was the headline attraction in the final event of the ninth annual Pittsfield CityJazz Festival, which spread its activities throughout the city, in restaurants, schools and other spots, over the last two weeks. Dave Brubeck, who passed away last December, made his final Berkshire appearance at the 2009 festival.

And Saturday evening, Chris Brubeck, on electric bass and bass trombone, and his brother, Dan, on drums, along with what the two call their “honorary brothers,” guitarist Mike DeMicco and pianist Chuck Lamb, proved not only splendid bearers of the Brubeck legacy, but also superb and versatile musicians who have established their own distinctive jazz tradition.

Serving as a most genial master of ceremonies for the set, Chris Brubeck carried the customary introductions and between-numbers patter to an articulate new level of illumination, tendering in his remarks not only time-and-place statistics, but the background and musical calculation in each Dave Brubeck piece that was iterated, and often rearranged, for the quartet’s sentimental tour of appreciation.

In introducing his dad’s “Bossa Nova USA,” Chris Brubeck stressed that this was strictly “a Bossa Nova Brubeck style,” and it elicited one of the many fascinating music conversations that took place throughout the evening between Lamb’s ambient keyboard and DeMicco’s equally fluent guitar, his fingers often dancing with agility over the frets.

While plunking bass lines, Chris Brubeck also managed a bit of sotto voce scat singing on one number, and then switched over to his trombone for a mellow take on “My One Bad Habit,” a piece he said had been dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald, who confided to his father one night over an after- session chat that her one bad habit was falling in love. Although the tune was never sung by Fitzgerald, Brubeck reported, it was performed by Carmen McRae after his mother, whom he praised as a fine lyricist, supplied the requisite words.

“Jazzanians,” a rather raucous number for the band, was developed from the experience of another brother, Darius, while teaching and assembling musicians at the University of Natal in South Africa.

Each band member was extended the spotlight to demonstrate his virtuosity, notably Lamb, who, in an extended solo, displayed what was called a new arrangement, dispatching shimmering chromatic chord clusters, shades of blues and galloping cocktail piano nuances, leading to some frenetic finger work from DeMicco’s solo and a tumultuous drum solo from Dan Brubeck.

While in Istanbul once, Brubeck heard a nine-beat rat-a-tat-tat, which his son demonstrated, rapping on his soundboard, then related how his father seized that sound, put it in 9/8 time, interspersed it with a jazzier 4/4, then adapted it all to rondo form in the classical manner. This became Brubeck’s celebrated “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” delivered here in a fanciful arrangement.

The evening’s most touching moment occurred amid the marathon finale rendition of Paul Desmond’s wonderful “Take Five,” the anthem of the Dave Brubeck Band. Quietly and discreetly, Lamb stepped away from the piano into the wings, and DeMicco placed his guitar on its stand and retreated into the opposite wing, allowing the Brothers Brubeck a few precious family moments alone on stage with “Take Five” and to meditate as Brubecks do, jamming passionately and vigorously.

Earlier in the evening, quartet members joined the Berkshires Jazz Youth Ensemble in an ambitious 20-minute program led by Ronald Lively, with Lamb sharing keyboard assignments with Tracy Wilson, director of the Berkshire Music School, and Mark Palady, a Pittsfield High student — DeMicco sitting with Yonaton Kaufman, a student, in the guitar section, and Chris Brubeck jumping in on a couple of trombone solos.

Geoff Vidal Quartet

In other festival activity, the Geoff Vidal Quartet offered some refreshing jazz sounds in Baba Louie’s Back Room last Thursday.

Vidal draws mellow romance from the lower register of his tenor saxophone in the bluesy numbers and blazing heat while dwelling in the upper range with such numbers as his “Mac and Cheese.”

The youthful ensemble, perhaps a harbinger of a bright jazz future, includes Nir Felder, 29, whose dazzling guitar often sparkles like a keyboard; Jochen Rueckert, also 29, tendering a sturdy percussive beat, and Aidan Carroll, 30, the energetic bassist.

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