The wordplay in the title of the Brubeck Brothers’ third release has no particular resonance until track eight, when the three-movement “Vignettes for Nonet” comes along. Composed by bassist Chris Brubeck, the suite is a luxuriant and sprightly commingling of the core quartet’s postbop sensibilities and the springy classical colorations of the five-piece Imani Winds. Until then, Classified is a superbly played, if not always innovative affair, heavy on ballads and blues, that picks up where the group’s 2006 Intuition left off. Chuck Lamb is the new pianist, replacing previous members Pete Levin and Taylor Eigsti, and his elegance is showcased amply, as in the swinging “Eclipse,” wherein Lamb and the song’s composer, mainstay BBQ guitarist Mike DeMicco, peel out nimble solo runs that keep Chris and drummer brother Dan always ready for action. In “Dance of the Shadows,” authored by the brothers, Chris Brubeck grabs an opportunity to put his bass trombone to good use—the quasi-bossa reinforces these players’ ingenuity and eagerness to surprise.
The two Brubecks, sons of one of jazz’s uncontested legends, have always held their own, and their lockstep rhythmic formations are never less than admirable here, and often quite exciting. But there’s no denying the work comes truly alive with the suite. The integration of reeds and jazz quartet is picture perfect, cinematic in scope and often breathtakingly beautiful. In particular, the third movement, subtitled “Tales of the Bazaar,” coaxes complexities out of Lamb and DeMicco that are only hinted at in the previous tracks. Almost as an afterthought, the trio of interrelated tracks gives way to an album-closing cover of dad Dave’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” one the two brothers have probably been playing since they first picked up instruments. It’s a dynamic, often clever take, but almost superfluous in the wake of the successful classical experiment.