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Holiday songs: A Dave Brubeck Christmas

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Continuing my review of my personal favorite holiday recordings, today’s disc is A Dave Brubeck Christmas. This latter-day collection of solo piano numbers has a parlor ambience to it, as though Dave were sitting at your grandmother’s old upright piano. Dave covers a set of mostly standards with a few of his own compositions in fine Brubeck style.

Now, when I say “Brubeck style,” don’t expect the thundering blocked chords and odd time signatures of Time Out. The approach here is much less fiery. At his liveliest on this recording, on “‘Homecoming” Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” Dave calls to mind great stride pianists like Fats Waller, with a little Count Basie thrown in for good measure. Most of the other numbers are approached with melodic inventiveness but contemplative tempos. The end result is a hushed anticipation that recalls Brubeck Plays Brubeck, his groundbreaking 1956 solo album recorded at home late at night as he tried to keep from waking his infant children. The comparison is apt: Brubeck says he was trying to recapture some of his favorite holiday memories of playing with his family. The end result is more “drowse by the fire” than “jingle bell rock,” but having a little help to get out of the holiday bustle and into a meditative mood during the season never hurts. Recommended.

One note about the sound: this is a Telarc recording, and like all Telarc discs is recorded with a much quieter playback volume than typical rock or jazz albums. As a result the disc doesn’t really play well in a changer, shuffled among other recordings, unless you have your hand on the volume knob at all times. Better to go ahead and turn up the sound and listen to the album straight through.

(Originally published on Jarrett House North.)

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About Timothy Jarrett

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks for these holiday music reviews – excellent!

  • felix oliver-tasker

    I may be wrong but I seem to remember a Brubeck Christmas album with the quartet which was brilliant. Paul Desmond played beautifully on it. Any ideas?

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