DBQ Reviews

Jazzwise praises The Darius Brubeck Quartet

Darius Brubeck, though he pays extensive tribute to his father’s compositions, is a different musician, an ethnomusicologist and emeritus professor. Since living in England he has toured regularly with the same band – Matt Ridley (bass), Wesley Gibbens (drums) and the elegant Dave O’Higgins on tenor. At Jazz Hastings, this highly accomplished, super-relaxed quartet presented a well-designed set notable for its varied time signatures: 7/4, 6/4, 5/4, 9/8; rhythmic variety made appealing listening, in a groove, neither stilted nor pretentious.

Brubeck’s South African years were acknowledged by a cover of Masekela’s ‘Nomali’. This version was edgier – O’Higgins and Brubeck’s inventions were more modern jazz, less African modal, than the original. The tune’s simple beauty evoked memories of Masekela, Pukwana, Feza, McGregor, Makeba – the whole South African sound legend transported to England away from prohibitive Apartheid.

The evocative ballad ‘Sea of Troubles’ was a performance highlight in the second sent. This two-chord alternator, in a gentle, undulating 7/4, leaves plenty of space for O’Higgins’ explorations, after a drum intro and Brubeck’s tumbling waves of notes. O’Higgins plays a mellow, breath-coated, Conn10M tenor (favoured by Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young), incorporating furry vintage jazz tones into his post-Coltrane phrasing. But the surprise of the evening was the choice of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ (recorded by the quartet back in  2008). The change of time signature, a 5/4 setting, brought to the tune an eerie ambience and unexpected swing.

An Abdullah Ibrahim tribute medley incorporated some of Ibrahim’s characteristic South African piano sounds. Tunes by Brubeck père included ‘Pick Up Sticks’, legendary spiky blues ‘Rondo a la Turk’ and inevitably, ‘Take Five’. All were faster, more up-beat, less Desmond, gloriously augmented. The encore was ‘Winter Wonderland’, oh-so-muzak nowadays, but this upbeat 5/4 version was a suitable finale to a fascinating and polished performance.

Victoria Kingham, February 2024

Review in Hastings Online Times, December 2023

Darius Brubeck Quartet wows the Jazz Hastings audience

Jazz Hastings was proud to welcome the son of a famous father, Darius Brubeck, son of Dave, and his quartet to its December gig last week. And Victoria Kingham was there to enjoy a memorable evening, complete with unusual time signatures – like father, like son.

Another packed night at the best jazz club this side of London. Chairs are brought in from everywhere, jazz club organisers meet and greet, friends and neighbours sit down, everyone anticipates a good time. I love this audience. I love this club too. It’s decorated with silver and gold garlands, a Christmas tree with lights – very traditional, unlike the jazz which follows.

Ethnomusicologist and ex-professor Darius Brubeck pays considerable tribute to his father’s compositions, but is a musician of a different order. Since settling in Rye, he has toured regularly with the same band – Matt Ridley on bass, Wesley Gibbens on drums, and the elegant, extraordinary Dave O’Higgins on tenor.

This highly accomplished yet relaxed quartet presented a well-designed set, particularly notable for its time signatures – 7/4, 6/4, 5/4, 9/8…The careful rhythmic variety made appealing listening: in a groove, but neither stilted nor pretentious. The band have recorded many of the numbers, mostly on Live in Poland (2019) or Years Ago (2016).

Brubeck spent years teaching and playing jazz in South Africa, a fact acknowledged by a version of the Masekela number Nomali. Their version was edgier – O’Higgins’ and Brubeck’s inventions are more modern jazz and less African modal than the original. The simple beauty of the tune evoked a small tear, as did the memories of Masekela, Pukwana, Feza, McGregor, Makeba – the whole South African sound transported to England away from prohibitive apartheid.

Another favourite was the evocative ballad Sea of Troubles (cf. Hamlet, everyone’s favourite bipolar antihero) presented in the second, highly integrated, set. It’s a two-chord alternator in a gentle 7/4, leaving plenty of space for O’Higgins’ exploratory improvisation after Ridley’s drum intro and Brubeck’s tumbling waves of notes. It’s a lovely sound – O’Higgins plays a mellow, breath-coated, Conn 10M tenor sax (favoured by luminaries Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young), incorporating a vintage reminiscence into his post-Coltrane phrases.

But the surprise of the evening was a version of Blowin’ In the Wind – an extraordinary choice, but in fact recorded by this quartet in 2008.  The change of time-signature to 5/4 brings it an eerie ambience and swing, One other tribute was a medley of the music of Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim), incorporating some of Ibrahim’s characteristic, open South African piano sounds, and dedicated to St Leonards’ own ex-South African jazz promoter, Reg Hendrickse.

Numbers by Brubeck père included Pick Up Sticks, legendary Blue Rondo a la Turk (definitely a blues!) and inevitably Take Five, one of the few jazz tunes to top the popular charts. Way back, I almost wore out the single that featured both these. Faster, more up-beat, less Desmond obviously, but there it was in its augmented glory.

The encore was Winter Wonderland, oh-so-muzak nowadays, but this 5/4 version is upbeat and interesting, and made an impressive end to an evening of rhythmic variety and invention.

Victoria Kingham

Jazz Café review, December 2023

Darius Brubeck at the Jazz Café

Darius Brubeck may now be 76 years old, but his music remains as lively, vibrant, and charismatic as ever. Performing live at the Jazz Cafe in Camden, the legendary pianist was joined by his quartet of 16 years featuring Dave O’Higgins on tenor saxophone, Matt Ridley on double bass, and Wesley Gibbens on drums.

This was a gig of two halves. The first featured straight-ahead covers from his father’s legendary 1959 album Time Out, whilst the second explored the infectious sounds of South African jazz. The balance between the personal and political was spot on – it was at once deeply respectful of his father’s musical legacy whilst also sharply aware of social injustices and racial liberation struggles during apartheid.

Just as on Time Out, the band opened the night with ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk’ and navigated the darting rhythms and shifting tempos with a classy precision. This was followed by more Brubeck classics, ‘Three to Get Ready’, ‘Strange Meadow Lark’, and ‘Cathy’s Waltz’. Like his father, Darius has a wonderful ability to combine the symmetrical elegance of Haydn and the lyrical phrasing of Chopin with the cool swinging rhythms of West Coast jazz, a sound that is well over 60 years old but remains as fresh and exciting as ever. ‘Take Five’ was saved as the final tune of the set, an eagerly anticipated crowd favourite which did not disappoint and featured top-notch solos from all bandmembers. O’Higgins was particularly impressive throughout, his tenor bringing a muscular modern edge to tunes that were originally recorded with Paul Desmond’s dark and dry alto tone.

In the second set, Darius moved beyond the repertoire of his father to explore the sounds of South African jazz, a style that has deep resonance within Darius’ own life. For 15 years Darius lived in South Africa, and in 1984 even founded the first university degree in jazz studies at the University of Natal. In 1988, he established the Jazzanians, the first multiracial student jazz ensemble to perform outside of South Africa and which in no small part echoed his father’s inclusion of black bassist Eugene Wright into his legendary quartet over 30 years previously. The quartet performed a handful of tunes from South African jazz legends, including Hugh Masekela’s ‘Nomali’ and Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘Tsakwe / Royal Blue’ and ‘Mannenberg’. Gibbens came alive during this set, his flurries of sticks, brushes, and bare hands providing infectiously danceable shuffle beats and complex polyrhythms. A feeling of up-tempo exuberance was tangible throughout, and the chemistry on show was a joy to experience.

The quartet also performed a rendition of ‘The Rainbow’, the only original composition by Darius of the evening. Dedicated to the famous Durban jazz club situated on the fringes of black and white communities, The Rainbow was a space where multi-racial music, despite its illegality at the time, continued to thrive during the years of apartheid. The story of this era in Darius’ career is still not so widely known to audiences in the UK, an era which Darius hinted will be centre stage for upcoming releases in the new year.

For an encore, the quartet performed a heart-warming cover of ‘Winter Wonderland’. Rearranged around a 5/4 time signature, this not only ended the gig on a suitably Christmassy note but also tied in with the rhythmic experimentation from the first set.

Published in London Jazz News, 14th December 2023, by Spargo

DownBeat Reviews, May 2020

Live in Poland, reviewed by Brian Morton

Now and then, the circumstances around a recording are almost as interesting as the content. Darius Brubeck’s 2018 tour of Poland took place during the centenary of the country’s restored independence, but also, on the anniversary of his father Dave’s pioneering 1958 tour, the first by a Western group behind the Iron Curtain.

Live In Poland feels like an extended dziekuje—or “thank you,” and the title of the folksy sixth track—to the Polish people in return. The warmth of reception is evident, most obviously in the reaction to “Take Five,” but also in the palpable chemistry between the group and the crowd at the Blue Note in Poznań. Brubeck begins “Earthrise” with huge, sonorous rolls on the keyboard, before the swinging main theme announces itself.

Does Dave O’Higgins sound remotely like Paul Desmond? Of course not; there’s too much Coltrane in his makeup, but he has the ability to make the tenor sound light and supple. The sheer delight of “Matt The Cat” and Hugh Masekela’s “Nomali” rescue the set from any possible solemnity.

But Darius Brubeck originals are the meat of the album, his “Sea Of Troubles” a glorious Hamlet-like soliloquy with profound blue  interventions from the group.

Live In Poland: Earthrise; In Your Own Sweet Way; Matt The Cat; Nomali; Sea Of Troubles; Dziekuje; Take Five.

Personnel: Darius Brubeck, piano; Dave O’Higgins, tenor saxophone; Matt Ridley, bass; Wesley Gibbens, drums.

On Sale Now, Ubuntu Music

Jazzwise News, Dec 2019 – Jan 2020

Jazzwise News

Jazzwise Review, Dec 2019 – Jan 2020

Jazzwise review of Live in Poland

The i, 17 December 2019

The i review for Live in Poland

The Financial Times 14-15 December 2019

The Guardian preview, 14-20 December 2019

Guardian preview, Live in Poland