On the same stage where their famous father played not too many years ago, two musician sons of Dave Brubeck joined the Portland Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night to pay tribute to their dad while also showcasing their own considerable talents.
The elder Brubeck, who passed away late last year, helped to bring jazz into the cultural mainstream while always maintaining high musical standards. The younger Brubecks, who frequently bring their own and their father’s music to stages where Bach and Beethoven are more often heard, are intent on continuing that tradition.
Elder brother Chris Brubeck proved an affable and engaging master of ceremonies, adding anecdotes, personal and professional, about his family’s musical journeys. The unusual time signature of the first piece on the program, he noted, came from Dave Brubeck’s experience with Turkish musicians while on a government-sponsored tour.
The majesty of the main theme of “Blue Rondo a la Turk” gave way to a very swinging interlude where, Chris noted, his father added some blues to bring home the exotic mix.
Indeed, most of the best pieces in the program referenced blues to one degree or another. “The Basie Band is Back in Town” swung hard while giving the crowd its first taste of Chris’ trombone work (he also played electric bass guitar). Fats Waller’s “Black and Blue” followed soon after to successfully continue the emphasis.
There were only a few moments during the evening where sweetness took the edge off the music and moved it more toward easy listening.
Dan Brubeck played drums throughout and was most impressive as a soloist on the Brubeck classic (composed by Paul Desmond) “Take Five.” Displaying tremendous rhythmic control and improvisational imagination, the younger brother never flagged in energy or musicality.
Rounding out the quartet were Mike DeMicco on electric guitar and Chuck Lamb on piano. Each had praiseworthy moments in the spotlight: Lamb on an intro to “In Your Own Sweet Way,” for example, and DeMicco during the Afro-influenced “Jazzanians.”
Chris Brubeck’s “Concerto for Bass Trombone” followed the intermission and nicely wrapped a sort of film-noir mood in the middle section with a Gershwin-esque opening and a funk-by-way-of-Stravinsky finale. The PSO and Chris made it succeed, a lovely bit of boisterous formalism amid all the jazz.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.