JJ 03/64: Dave Brubeck – Brandenburg Gate: Revisited

Sixty years ago Mark Gardner was pleased to hear Paul Desmond holding the line for jazz in a turgid third-stream effort. First published in Jazz Journal March 1964

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After playing this latest release by the prolific Dave Brubeck, one can’t help wondering why so many jazz musicians hanker after the settings of their classical brethren. Is it a yearning for respecta­bility? Recognition from the eggheads? Or what? Here we have Brubeck and his brother Howard dabbling in third stream, attempting to fuse banks of classical strings with a working jazz quartet, dressing up Brubeck material for the hip longhairs. As with so many similar efforts of this nature, the jazz is stifled to a whimper and the strings wind up sound­ing absurd.

Side one comprises an extended work, Brandenburg Gate, an 11-movement suite inspired by the Berlin landmark and its turbulent history. As usual, Desmond’s alto saxophone is faultless and the most musical ingredient of these turgid pro­ceedings. Brubeck too is predictable in that he plays with his normal bludgeon­ing gusto and paucity of ideas. Even Morello has his work cut out to make things swing with Brubeck and the strings.

The remaining tracks are better. The impeccable saxophone in Summer Song is a tribute to Desmond’s determination not to be hung up by his section mates, but Brubeck is content to faithfully play his florid, heavyman role, right down to the last chord. Easily the most listenable title is In Your Own Sweet Way, one of Brubeck’s really durable lines.

As you’ve gathered, this album is not exactly my meat. Even Brubeck collectors may think twice about this one.


Discography
Brandenburg Gate (18½ min) – Summer Song; In Your Own Sweet Way: G Flat Theme; Kathy’s Waltz (17 min)
Paul Desmond (alt); Dave Brubeck (p); Gene Wright (bs); Joe Morello (d); unidentified strings, woodwinds, brass. N.Y.C., Summer, 1961.
(CBS BPG 62138 12inLP 33s. 1d.)