The Pops swing with Brubeck

Dave Brubeck performed “Take Five’’ with the Pops Tuesday night. Dave Brubeck performed “Take Five’’ with the Pops Tuesday night. (Michael J. Lutch)
By Kevin Lowenthal
Globe Correspondent / June 3, 2010

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With his signature fusion of West Coast jazz optimism and classical influences, Dave Brubeck makes a perfect guest for the Pops.

The 89-year-old pianist entered Symphony Hall to a standing ovation to start the concert’s second half Tuesday night. His pianism, always more dogged than dazzling, has lost some of its force, but his compositions stand strong.

On a widescreen arrangement of his “Summer Music,’’ Brubeck’s blocky chords and Bobby Militello’s fleet alto saxophone were swingingly supported by bassist Michael Moore and drummer Randy Jones. But the thickening orchestral textures soon obscured the quartet. Brubeck’s “The Basie Band Is Back in Town’’ provided a brontasaurian vision of Basie’s archetypal dueling brass/reeds riffs. Brubeck’s solo echoed Harlem stride, with Militello in Lester Young mode. Moore’s bass solo was strikingly vocalistic. The languid lullaby movement from Brubeck’s orchestral composition “La Fiesta de la Posada’’ showcased Militello’s dulcet flute. The pounding, 9/8 “Turkish’’ sections of Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk’’ seemed tailor-made for orchestra and were smashingly played by the Pops.

The crowd erupted with the first strain of his greatest hit “Take Five.’’ Brubeck pounded out the 5/4 vamp, Militello added his own fillips to the tune, and the orchestra joined briefly before all ceded the spotlight to Jones’s drums. A more brittle player than Joe Morello, featured on the famous recording, Jones nevertheless kept the thread of the tune taut throughout his virtuoso display. The orchestra contributed a final fanfare, and then Brubeck exited to another standing ovation.

The Pops played the first half of the program without Brubeck’s group. The evening opened with a crisp rendition of Glinka’s overture to “Russlan and Ludmilla.’’ Next: Leroy Anderson’s clacking classic, “The Typewriter,’’ accompanied an Arthur Fiedler film montage. Music from “Raiders of the Lost Ark’’ and “E.T.’’ demonstrated how much of Steven Spielberg’s trademark uplift owes to John Williams’s scores.

Violinists Bonnie Bewick and Tamara Smirnova celebrated great guitarist Django Reinhardt’s centennial by evoking his swashbuckling fiddler partner, Stephane Grappelli, improvising on “Skylark’’ and “Sweet Georgia Brown.’’ Bewick soloed over a sublimely silly arrangement of “Dark Eyes’’ (a.k.a. “Ochi Chyornye’’) fit for an MGM musical dance number. To close the first half, the orchestra played as the audience sang along to charming/creepy animations from the video game The Beatles: Rock Band.

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Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this review incorrectly described jazz drummer Joe Morello as deceased. Morello is 81. The review also misidentified saxophonist Bobby Militello.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this review referred to the "late Joe Morello." The jazz drummer is alive. The review also misidentified saxophonist Bobby Militello.


At: Symphony Hall, Tuesday night