Dave Brubeck is a hallmark in Amerian music. His milestone LP, Time Out, with the blockbuster Take Five, was a hundred percenter, solid from start to finish, as, frankly, was the follower, Time Further Out, but he never again scaled the heights to that degree. Part of the reason for this was his refusal to stay in one place and endlessly rehash past glories. Like Paul Winter, Brubeck wanted to be a musician, not a hit factory (though I'm quite sure he wouldn't have objected had any other LPs or songs climbed the heights as dramatically as the Time pair).
Thus, with Songs of Praise, Dave ventured into religious waters, a task that has historically yielded interesting returns for such diverse artists as Keith Jarrett, Spooky Tooth (w/Pierre Henry), the Electric Prunes, David Axelrod, and other decidedly non-classicalist composers. Songs, however, is much more augustly slanted, a combination of gospel, chant, and Classical oratorio. With the Pacific Mozart Ensemble and Quartet San Francisco under the conductorships of Lynne Morrow and Richard Grant, he penned an hour's worth of sacred music centered in the Christian tradition—particularly, or so it seems to me, the Catholic bent.
This necessarily lends itself to more than one somber recital, as in soprano Mari Marjamaa's handling of Concordia within the Canticles cycle, a beautiful lament and commemoration of the birth of Jesus: lament for the inherent nature of the need of saviorship as against the sins of the world in scriptural canon, commemoration of the incipient salvation. Interestingly, the opening movement of the Salve Mater (Crucifixion) is jubilant upon the life of the Christ and the instrumentality of the Virgin Mary—founts, as the lyrics clearly extol, of hope for humanity. This is perhaps the most engrossing section of the entire CD, alternating between a lively blend of several chant traditions abetted by more modernist modes skillfully indexed, subsiding in quiet reflections on the approaching martyrdom.
Then come the more seasonal compositions (Ev'ry Christmas I Hear Bells, etc.) and addressals of Christian staples (Psalm 23 et al), none of which try for popular sentimentality and rhythms but rather pure musicality. Sleep, Holy Infant, Sleep is an excellent example, lullaby and luminous exaltation simultaneously, too complex for incorporation into the season's songbook but, well, beautiful. Even Brubeck's long pensee on The Commandments is engaging, an amalgam of rondo, seriality, and chant that pulls the listener into its enchanting mode, gospel accents interspersed. Thus, don't look to Songs of Praise for light holiday fare or popularized chorales in a jazz tempo; Brubeck was quite quite serious when he sat down to pen all this, and it requires concentrated listening to fully reveal the real depths dwelling in every track.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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