The Dave Brubeck Quartet: London Flat, London Sharp

Dave Brubeck image 0
Thomas Conrad

Dave Brubeck

There can be few more daunting destinies in jazz than to be an alto player in the Dave Brubeck Quartet and not be Paul Desmond. It is not that Bobby Militello lacks chops. Quite the contrary. It is just that he is everything Paul Desmond was not-shrill and frenetic and boisterous. On London Flat, London Sharp (Telarc), he reinforces Brubeck’s own cerebral percussiveness and jarring hard turns (rather than counteracting them with cosmic suave, as Desmond did). But if Militello often makes London Flat, London Sharp fatiguing, it is impossible not to be moved by a pianist/composer who plays his ass off at 85, and who says that he “still writes all day, every day,” even when touring.

The album, with its rich, varied repertoire, is a testament to Brubeck’s extraordinary life of uninterrupted creativity. “Ballad of the Rhine” was written on the day when Brubeck’s army unit crossed the river in 1945. The title track was composed in 1998, but was so difficult (with the pianist’s left hand moving down chromatically in flats while his right moves up chromatically in sharps) that the quartet was not ready to record it until 2004.