JJ 06/83: Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Barbican

Forty years ago, Richard Palmer found himself out of step with the rapturous reception afforded the pianist's London concert. First published in Jazz Journal June 1983

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Dave Brubeck at the 1982 Knebworth jazz festival. Photo © Brian O'Connor

I admire Brubeck as a composer; and his piano can be swinging and delicate, for all his fondness for confusing pounding with real power. But at the moment he has the dubious privilege of employing the most leaden rhythm section.

Randy Jones’s drumming was frankly awful: he couldn’t even keep in time with his leader for most of the concert, and his back-beat figures could have been done better by any decent rock musician. Chris Brubeck on electric bass made one pray for a power-cut, although one couldn’t be too sanguine about his ability to swing even a string bass.

Dave and old confrère Bill Smith managed some good moments above this morass; but Brubeck’s polytonal noodling became a bore when used in every number; and Smith made excessive use of the echo machine. On Softly, William, Softly it was arresting: after three more excursions, I was just fed up.

The supreme bad moments of the evening were also the most rapturously received: Jones’s five-minute solo and the climax to an otherwise invigorating I Hear A Rhapsody – as tasteless and vulgar a piece of bravura as I hope I’ll ever hear. I’d rather not dwell on Brubeck junior’s flatulent trombone outings, especially the nasty and ragged New Orleans pastiche he and Smith served up. The audience love it, though.

Come back, Time Out and Jazz At Oberlin, all is forgiven. Well, almost.