Jazzwise praises The Darius Brubeck Quartet

Category: DBQ Reviews

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