Jazz CD Reviews

Chris Brubeck’s Triple Play – Live at Arthur Zankel Music Center – Blue Forest

Two generations of Brubeck are together again (for yet another time).

Published on June 6, 2012

Chris Brubeck’s Triple Play – Live at Arthur Zankel Music Center – Blue Forest

Chris Brubeck’s Triple Play – Live at Arthur Zankel Music Center – Blue Forest, BFR-TP-11003 77:48 [2/7/12] ****:

(Chris Brubeck – bass, piano, trombone, vocals, co-producer; Joel Brown – guitar, vocals, co-producer; Peter Madcat Ruth – harmonica, ukulele, hi-hat, jaw harp, vocals; Dave Brubeck – piano; Frank Brown – clarinet)

“Well, it’s time to party, don’t you think? This is a little bit of Mississippi party music. Whoo!” And with a blast of harmonica, that’s how Chris Brubeck’s Triple Play kicks off the 77-minute music merrymaking which fills Live at Arthur Zankel Music Center. This twelve-track outing is a dynamic blend of blues, jazz and roots music recorded at the Helen Filene Hall, Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY on June 10, 2011. Of course with anything created by anyone named Brubeck, it’s always a good time. Chris Brubeck is probably best known as one of the sons of Dave Brubeck, but Chris Brubeck has had a multi-decade, distinguished and eclectic career which includes a ten-year stint in his father’s quartet, time spent in rock groups, and a lengthy association with folk singer/banjoist Bill Crofut, which ended when Crofut passed away in 1999. Triple Play is, naturally, a trio: Brubeck on bass, piano, trombone and vocals; Joel Brown on guitar and vocals; and Peter Madcat Ruth on harmonica, ukulele, hi-hat, jaw harp and vocals. But this superb live document is also a special father/son collaboration: Joel Brown’s father, clarinetist Frank Brown, and pianist Dave Brubeck sit in as guests on the majority of the tracks.

Triple Play sprint out of the gate with a zippy version of the blues traditional, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” which has been covered by everyone from R.L. Burnside to Muddy Waters. Triple Play’s rendition is fronted by Ruth’s confident harmonica with assistance from Brown’s acoustic guitar and Brubeck’s low-key bass. That’s followed by a subdued interpretation of the timely “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” which centers on Chris Brubeck’s piano and his down-trodden vocals. The Depression-era lyrics about misfortune, military veterans returning to broken homes and splintered dreams, and the search for a better tomorrow resonate in this period of a new recession replete with layoffs, foreclosures, military conflict on foreign soil and protests. The band stays with the same theme as they swing the tempo back up with Ruth’s droll, funky blues-tinged “Win the Lotto,” which has a sarcastic sense of humor akin to Robert Earl Keen, Jr. While piano, harmonica and guitar roll along, Ruth sings about how a person can become a millionaire with just a dollar and some luck. With the appropriate intro, “It’s blues time!,” the trio digs deeper into the blues with Robert Johnson’s “Phonograph Blues,” where the evening’s first guest, clarinetist Frank Brown, appears. He and his son Joel both provide ear-catching solos, while Ruth vocalizes with apt aplomb.

After that, its Brubeck time. Guitar and piano are supported by harmonica and clarinet in a bluesy translation of Dave Brubeck’s poignant, “Koto Song,” an instrumental with some excellent harmonica/clarinet interplay alongside some memorable acoustic guitar improvisation. This blues/jazz mixture is a real highlight but only a warm-up for what comes next. A New Orleans cadence flits through Chris Brubeck’s Crescent City-colored raconteur narrative “Mighty Mrs. Hippy,” about a river boat captain/hippy with bad hygiene and a gal in every port, his displeased wife who studies astrology and martial arts, and their adventures along the Great American River. After an extensive, witty prologue Triple Play break into a 5/4 boogie-woogie which rocks the house. Both Chris and Dave Brubeck combine forces for a lengthy set of tunes written by or associated with Dave Brubeck. There’s a folk/blues lilt to the Triple Play arrangement of “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” and the applause is palpable when Dave Brubeck steps on stage to join the band three minutes in. While the senior Brubeck isn’t as lively as he was in his youthful days, he can still stride the ivories with plenty of personality. Frank Brown’s clarinet solo also gives the piece a fresh approach. The younger Brubeck shows off his trombone talent on a shimmering reading of Fats Waller’s “Black and Blue,” a tune the elder Brubeck used to do when he toured colleges in the early ‘50s. One of Brubeck’s most stunning displays of his classical education is “Dziekuje (Thank You),” (which is inspired by and quotes from Chopin) and here Brubeck delivers an unaccompanied performance which is breathtakingly beautiful. The program concludes with two more blues, Dave Brubeck’s “Travelin’ Blues” (with charming lyrics penned by Brubeck’s wife, Iola Brubeck) and W.C. Handy’s blues standard “St. Louis Blues,” with a nine-minute adaptation of “Take Five” sandwiched in between, notable for an arrangement which includes clarinet, acoustic guitar, a jittery jaw harp, a lone hi-hat, electric bass and Dave Brubeck piano contributions which seemingly interweave a summarized history of jazz.

TrackList: Rollin’ & Tumblin’; Brother, Can You Spare a Dime; Win the Lotto; Phonograph Blues; Koto Song; Mighty Mrs. Hippy; Blue Ronda a la Turk; Black and Blue; Dziekuje (Thank You); Travelin’ Blues; Take Five; St. Louis Blues.

—Doug Simpson




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