Live at Arthur Zankel Music Center
Blue Forest Records
While bass-trombonist-pianist-composer Chris Brubeck has spent a lot of time over the past decade working in orchestral settings (his “Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra” with the London Symphony Orchestra led to a series of classical commissions), he returns to his blues-rock-jazz roots on this intimate, stripped-down outing. It also reunites him with harmonica ace Peter “Madcat” Ruth, his former bandmate in two early ’70s groups, Two Generations of Brubeck and the hippie jam-band New Heavenly Blue.
The core trio of Brubeck, Ruth and Joel Brown on acoustic guitar flies through a lively version of the earthy blues staple “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” (recalling the ’70s-era Siegel-Schwall Blues Band, minus the drums). They are joined by 85-year-old clarinetist Frank Brown on Robert Johnson’s “Phonograph Blues,” with Ruth switching to ukulele. Brubeck plays piano on a delicate rendition of his father Dave’s sparsely appointed “Koto Song” (from 1964’s Jazz Impressions of Japan) that features vibrant interplay between Ruth’s harmonica and Brown’s clarinet. He also showcases some slick Professor Longhair-styled piano work on his own 5/4 ditty “Mighty Mrs. Hippy.”
The 91-year-old patriarch makes a surprise appearance in the middle of a faithful rendition of his “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” Papa Brubeck remains throughout the rest of the program, playing piano on Fats Waller’s “Black and Blue,” a trombone feature for his son Chris; an unaccompanied version of his tender “Dziekuje (Thank You)”; an expansive “Take Five” which has Ruth stretching on harmonica and jaw harp; and a rousing finale of “St. Louis Blues,” wherein the elder Brubeck playfully deconstructs the theme in his inventive solo.