Fortunate sons

Brubeck Brothers live up to the family name at the Big Room

Chris Brubeck and Dan Brubeck

Chris Brubeck and Dan Brubeck

Photo By Tom Angel

Brubeck BrothersSierra Nevada Big RoomTues., April 19

Brothers Dan and Chris Brubeck, sons of legendary jazz pianist/composer/bandleader Dave Brubeck, were not joined by papa at their recent Chico show (as had been rumored), but that was just fine. On drums and fretless electric bass respectively, along with pianist Chuck Lamb (from Tuck & Patti, Bela Fleck, Woody Herman) and guitarist Mike DeMicco (Garth Hudson, Rory Block, Jack DeJohnette), the brothers opened their Big Room show with a tune from their recent Intuition CD, “West of One,” written by DeMicco.

“Only people in California get the humor in the title,” Chris joked, referring to where “you don’t wanna end up” when you are driving along the California coast. “West of One” percolated along in melodic, fusiony style, driven smoothly by Chris’ stellar fretless chops and Dan’s excellent drumming, punctuated with the occasional well-chosen cymbal whack. DeMicco and Lamb took nice, groovy solos, showing off their talents without being show-offs, and Lamb’s piano “comping” over Chris’ bass solo was admirably very spare and gentle.

No strangers to unusual time signatures (see papa Brubeck’s famous “Take Five,” for example), the Brubeck Brothers-plus-two next played “Bossa Nova U.S.A.,” from Second Nature, a song in 5/4 time written by their father. Chris explained humorously how the song came about: In the Brubeck family they “had accidentally played the bossa nova in 5/4 [instead of 4/4]. … That doesn’t happen in most families!” DeMicco’s guitar solo on this one was an ear-pleasing mixture of single-line playing and chordal chunking, and I loved watching the calm concentration on his face and the way he occasionally moved his mouth in sync with a particular line he was playing.

Chris’ scat singing in unison with his bass solo on his “Bullwinkle’s Revenge” was one of the highlights of the evening for me, as was his beautiful trombone work on another of his originals, “Easy for You to Pray,” a “ballad of gratitude,” as he put it, that he wrote on turning 50 and the only song of the night on which he played the trombone. The song and his trombone playing were so pretty that I wrote in my notes, “You can feel that this is what gratitude sounds like.”

The last two songs of the evening were, satisfyingly, Dave Brubeck’s signature pieces, “Blue Rondo à la Turk” and “Take Five.” Lamb’s very nice piano solo on “Blue Rondo” ended coolly and abruptly with a neat little hanging-in-the-air ending. DeMicco sprinkled some of his blues moves (see Rory Block) into his impressive solo on the same. “Take Five” featured a drum solo by brother Dan that pulled out all the stops over its 18- or 19-minute duration but never got boring. Switching from regular drumsticks to Hot Rods (halfway between a stick and a brush) to maracas used as sticks and back again to drumsticks, Dan treated us to one hell of a drum solo. Whistles, cheers and claps from the audience, and Dan’s increasingly contorted face, made for extra excitement.

As my friend Stephen said afterwards: “Wow! What a great show! I was impressed.”