The tunes are sourced from a variety of albums, but the titular "Brandenburg Gate" from Jazz Impressions of Eurasia gets the most attention with Dave's brother, Howard Brubeck orchestrating the tune and extending it out into ten additional sections, giving space to explore counterpoint. Then the orchestra plays with sensitivity to the Quartet, but not interplaying with the Quartet as the four jazz musicians work their magic within the sweep of the strings.
It's an interesting tension that's created as the usual looseness and discovery that is common to jazz improvisation is given a leash by the orchestrated composition, giving the Quartet a limit to the time and musical space they have to work. This is especially challenging, I think for drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright as their roles as the keepers of time are partially subsumed by the orchestra's relentless playing. However, Howard Brubeck created plenty of space in his arrangement for everyone to get a chance to work and both Morello and Wright manage to make their solo spaces work.
Also the more tightened musical space is kind of made up for by the Quartet having a foreknowledge of the music that they will be playing against and beside, even more so than a typical jazz composition, and that foreknowledge of what's coming allows the Quartet to play more deftly with the space allotted to their performance.
Certainly, the stately presence of a string orchestra does on surface threaten the possibility that the resulting music could be stodgy, but the Quartet actually manages to work well within the scheme. On "Summer Song", the orchestra actually manages to stay within the background giving lots of space for Brubeck and Desmond to shine and just swelling here and there when appropriate, with the Quartet giving and taking musical presence accordingly.
It's also kind of fun to hear many of these tracks get a new interpretation with Brubeck's previous solo piano piece, "In Your Own Sweet Way" from Brubeck Plays Brubeck getting an incredibly full lush sound from its transition to this format, not only gaining from the presence of his Quartet, but also from the string orchestra which builds in some points of interaction with Brubeck's keys. "Kathy's Waltz" immigrates from Time Out and actually manages to capture an even greater sense of connectedness to traditional waltzes and Desmond plays well with the brass and woodwinds behind him in the full symphony orchestra. And even with the scope and presence of the orchestra, the Quartet remains front and center off their bright and playful improvisations.
As such, it's not hard to conclude that Brandenburg Gate: Revisited is a success. I will admit that sometimes the rigidity of having to work within the frame of responding to or improvising within a pre-orchestrated piece does at time make the Quartet seem just a bit constrained, but they still manage to sell their performances, which is pretty impressive. This isn't their first experiment with working with orchestras, as they previously have with Brubeck Plays Bernstein Plays Brubeck and it shows in how well they tackle their transformed material. Good stuff here. Especially recommended for fans of Brubeck and those wanting to try out a record that marries jazz with an orchestra. 7/10.
- Brandenburg Gate
- Summer Song
- In Your Own Sweet Way
- G Flat Theme
- Kathy's Waltz