Review in Hastings Online Times, December 2023

Category: DBQ Reviews

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