Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 24 10:27:49 PST 2004

Probably OKOM for about half of us on the list. We didn't know you liked
"avant Garde" did we? For the rest who don't like Brubeck, or polytonal
music, DELETE now.

Steve Barbone

March 24, 2004 NEW YORK TIMES


A New Look at an Old View of Music's Polytonal Future


      I never expected to be here playing this, or to ever hear this
music again," Dave Brubeck said. He was addressing a full house at Avery
Fisher Hall on Monday night, and the grandfatherly twinkle in his eye
made it plain that he took pleasure in adding another unlikely chapter
to an unlikely career.

The concert resurrected his 1946 octet, a group he formed at Mills
College while studying with the composer Darius Milhaud. Mr. Brubeck,
and his bandmates explored unusual forms and rhythms, and their
experiments anticipated some of the directions jazz would take in the
decades that followed. But the music was nearly lost: as Mr. Brubeck
explained, the scores were destroyed in a flood, and so on Monday night
the musicians worked from transcriptions of an old recording.

So this was a night of cheerful reversals. The venerable master, now 83,
reprised the role of eager student, wistfully recalling Milhaud's
influence. The group played music that had gone from the printed page to
the stage and — painstakingly — back again. And the audience got a
chance to hear old avant-garde
compositions that prefigured a future now past.

Nine musicians and a conductor were required to recreate the complicated
arrangements, including the four members of the Dave Brubeck quartet
(which played a nimble, spirited set to open the show) and William O.
Smith, the adventurous clarinetist who was a key member of the original

One of the most appealing pieces was Mr. Brubeck's densely interwoven
setting of "The Way You Look Tonight." He warned the audience that it
was "very complicated," sometimes shifting harmony with every beat, but
the group scampered through the changes as if the whole thing were
merely a lark.

A brief composition called "Rondo" resembled a homework assignment, and
for good reason: "We experimented with different forms, because Milhaud
wanted us to," Mr. Brubeck said. Of course he eventually found other
uses for the hybrid jazz-rondo form. A decade later Milhaud's challenge
inspired one of Mr. Brubeck's best-known compositions, "Blue Rondo a la

Another hybrid, "Fugue on Bop Themes," still sounded weird and witty all
these years later. The theme included a pair of syncopated rhythmic
figures, which had a slightly different effect each time they cycled
around: sometimes they were a sharp interruption, sometimes just a
gentle ripple.

The night ended with a crowd-pleasing run through "Take Five" (enlivened
by Mr. Smith's deliciously irreverent solo), but the most memorable part
of the concert was Mr. Brubeck's I-told-you-so smile. At one point he
remembered, "In those days polytonal chords were looked on as mistakes."
And then, with more than a hint of glee: "I'm going to play those
mistakes tonight."

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