Monday, 18 August 2014

GALA - RETURN OF THE BRUBECK / Singapore Chinese Orchestra with Brubeck Brothers Quartet / Review

Singapore Chinese Orchestra
with the Brubeck Brothers Quartet
Singapore Conference Hall
Friday (15 August 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 August 2014 with the title "When Brubeck met the Chinese orchestra".

It is a curious fact here that when one wants to hear symphonic jazz and crossover music, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra are the go to people. In the past year, the SCO has presented an all-Gershwin concert, collaborated with country fiddler Mark O’Connor and brought back Chris Brubeck, the ever-versatile jazzman son of legend Dave Brubeck. His third appearance here featured the Singapore debut of the Brubeck Brothers Quartet (BBQ).

Alongside Chris was his brother drummer Dan, guitarist Mike DeMicco and pianist Chuck Lamb, who dominated centrestage, discreetly supported by the SCO conducted by Music Director Yeh Tsung. It is the very nature of crossover symphonic concerts that the special guests were the main draw, and the quartet performing mostly original music by Dave Brubeck did not disappoint.

Chris was the main spokesman, regaling the audience with anecdotes about each piece and their inspirations. Then he comfortably alternated between electric bass guitar, trombone and later even crooning, exuding that intense yet nonchalant air that only jazz people know how. In My One Bad Habit Is Falling In Love, the title from a quote by Ella Fitzgerald, his trombone poured out the moody blues, contrasted by the heady procession of tunes in The Basie Band Is Back In Town.  

Mr Broadway was written for a 1960s television detective series starring Craig Stevens (of Peter Gunn fame), a highly rhythmic and catchy number that should have caught more fame except that the show was canned after one season. More classical inclined was Brandenburg Gate Revisited, a theme and variations piece based on a Bachian aria with the orchestra serving the concertino role of the baroque concerto grosso while the quartet improvised.

The only non-Brubeck numbers included an uncharacteristically tepid account of Gershwin’s Strike Up The Band, Eric Watson’s unusually jazzy Mahjong Kakis based on the quintessentially Chinese game for four - a far better account - and Leroy Anderson’s Jazz Pizzicato, where the winds unwittingly upstaged the plucked strings.

The popular standards were reserved for the latter part of the two-and-a-half hour concert. Dan Brubeck’s drums were afforded a prolonged solo in Jazzanias, while pianist Lamb commanded the keys in In Your Own Sweet Way. Paul Desmond’s ubiquitous Take Five, the Brubeck signature tune, got the audience all excited, not least with four SCO musicians improvising over the world’s most immediately recognisable 5/4 rhythm.

Tan Man Man’s erhu, Zhong Zhi Yue’s sheng, Yu Jia’s pipa and Han Lei’s guanzi took turns in wowing the audience and the quartet members themselves, with the longest and loudest applause reserved for Han’s stunning acrobatics and long-held final note. It was the non-standard time signatures and beats that made these numbers memorable: the invigorating 9/8 in Blue Rondo à la Turk and quirkingly off-centre 7/4 for Unsquare Dance.

It is not often that an audience at an SCO concert gets this worked up and vocal, but the intoxicating combination of jazz and Chinese instruments did the trick. Two encores Brubeck’s Marian McPartland by the quartet unaccompanied and a reprise of the end of Blue Rondo brought the evening’s show to a rowdily memorable close.

All photos by the kind permission of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.

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