Dave Brubeck climaxed the JVC Jazz Festival, opening his set with “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” a highlight of his recent Telarc CD, “Park Avenue South,” recorded last summer at a Gotham Starbucks. The legendary pianist — now 82 — took the first unaccompanied chorus with the familiar burly, big block chords that have become his trademark. When his colleagues joined in, Brubeck progressively quickened the tempo with the fury of gathering storm. That appeared to challenge and amuse his rhythm section, which triumphantly rose to the challenge.
The pianist-composer recalled a performance of his “Dialogue for Jazz Combo and Symphony Orchestra,” conducted by Leonard Bernstein on the Carnegie Hall stage.
Revived here, sans orchestra, it was an adventurous dialogue with his colleagues. Bobby Militello is an aggressively florid sax player, and not nearly as lyrical as former Brubeck altoist, the late Paul Desmond. But his solos have considerable flourish and bite.
The quartet recently returned from a 55-consecutive-day tour of concerts in Great Britain. The final five days of engagements in London prompted Brubeck to compose “London Flat, London Sharp,” an ode to the comfort of his apartment after the grueling grind of bus travel. Brubeck is a visionary composer, and the humor of his attack in measured sharps and flats is nothing short of joyous.
“Someday My Prince Will Come” remains a “Snow White” classic, rendered in the infectious waltz time tempo. The Brubeck version of the tune goes back to the 1957 record date “Dave Digs Disney.” Randy Jones is a solidly grounded drummer, Michael Moore a superior bassist with a big tone and sure technique. Moore’s solos are always rich with imagination.
The Disney ditty turned out to be a fanciful finale, and the quartet exited without the customary signature performance of “Take Five,” despite pleas from the audience.
Shirley Horn arrived and exited to the kind of standing ovations that come from deep within the heart. The lady is truly loved. Her indomitable spirit has triumphed over surgery that has left her confined to a wheelchair and deprived of the ability to accompany herself at the piano.
With remarkable inner grace and the understated purity of her voice, Horn floated through a repertoire of standards, from the subtle earthiness of “Hard Hearted Hannah” and a slow-burning “Fever” to the title tune from her new Verve CD, “May the Music Never End.” The Lennon-McCartney “Yesterday,” in particular, seemed to resonate with wistful reflection.
Horn was fervently embraced by the capacity aud of dedicated fans. The emotional bond was never more evident than when her fans offered an encouraging show of support as the diva went up on the opening lines of “Here’s to Us.”
Apologizing, Horn noted, “I’ve sung this song over 2,000 times.” But she still “believes in chasing dreams,” and her set seemed to embody her courageous quest and the dignity to triumph over adversity.