This is the kind of piece that Leonard Bernstein, for one, would have liked to have pulled off more often — a genuine, uninhibited fusion with a strong personal signature. It’s not Brubeck’s fault that his choral works aren’t better known; it’s just that one can’t force them into any categories — and that drives most specialist critics crazy.
Three times within La Fiesta, Brubeck and his sons Chris (electric bass) and Dan (drums) cut loose with some now-thunderous, now-meditative jazz interludes. Despite a nagging case of the flu, Brubeck could still deliver the polytonal piano goods full strength in his distinctive, even charismatic, manner. And sick or not, the irrepressible Brubeck offered an encore — a slow, touching improvised fantasy on the theme of God’s Love Made Visible, soon taken up by the trio and choir.
La Fiesta certainly gave Maurita Phillips-Thornburgh’s game choral group Cantori Domino a workout; after some chaotic passages early on, a marvelously vital Gloria got everyone on track. The cloudy acoustics of this ridgetop Bel-Air church seemed to throw everything into a sonic electric blender, but that sometimes resulted in delicious jumbles of sound.