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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, February 2007

This is Salmon’s second Brubeck disc for Naxos. Here he presents what are termed twenty-six Nocturnes though that’s something of a misnomer. They’re short character studies, mainly played straight with three notable exceptions where Salmon allows himself the luxury of some explicit improvisation – Recuerdo, Bluette and Koto Song. A number of the songs are also from recent albums and many have personal associations for Brubeck – family, travel, touring, special people and an air of nostalgia.

Whatever they may or may not be these are all engaging and often wistful examples of Brubeck’s art. Since he recently announced that he won’t make any more European tours due to the fatigue of the travelling it’s a moment for those of us here to reflect on his more intimate and reflective moments. They’re captured with real understanding and affection by Salmon who’s made something of a study in things Brubeckian.

So we can admire the compression but affirmative lyricism of the charming ballad Strange Meadowlark. Similarly – and how craftily programmed it is – we can enjoy the Bachian Mexicana, or should that be Mexican Bachiana of Recuerdo, which as already noted is one of the few places where Salmon has some improvisatory leeway. He brings out its suspensions nicely as indeed he does in adducing a little Erroll Garner to its veritable charms. I enjoyed the antique air of Softly, William, Softly, which derives from a never completed opera. As its title suggests Bluette is a laid back mini blues opus. And as with so many songs of his we can hear how Quiet As The Moon aspires to the condition of song. Brubeck is a wonderfully “vocal” composer.

Home Without Iola (his wife) is imbued with tristesse but another tribute to her - (I Still Am In Love With) A Girl Named Oli – has more than its share of earthy, funky Garneresque moments. There’s a touching tribute to Audrey Hepburn as well, and a trademark waltz, Viennese style, to add variety both rhythmic and thematic to the programming. Rather odd though that his Fats Waller tribute – Mr. Fats – should be in the form of a boogie; perhaps Harlem Stride was too much Fats’s thing for Brubeck to insist upon it. The range of his classical enthusiasms and interests can be gauged by his Satie homage, the roguishly titled I See, Satie.

This is another well-judged tribute to a still vital talent. There’s warmth here and wit and the kind of miniaturised impressionism that keeps Brubeck so interesting and rewarding a figure.

American Record Guide, February 2007

Noted jazz pianist Dave Brubeck satisfied his craving for a formal classical music education in several ways. One was studies at Mills College with Darius Milhaud. Milhaud suggested that Brubeck introduce jazz elements into his classical compositions, and that is what we have here.

Those expecting something similar to Chopin's nocturnes will be disappointed. Many of these 26 brief essays employ jazz chords and rhythms here and there, and there are some cute titles such as 'Nostalgia de Mexico', 'Upstage Rhumba', and 'Mr Fats'. Suffice it to say that they inhabit the sound world of high class cocktail music. Pianist Salmon, himself a jazz player, does what he can for the pieces. If the result is hardly overwhelming it is certainly not owing to his contribution.

Philip Clark
International Piano, December 2006

If tempted to query why anyone would want to hear transcriptions of Dave Brubeck's music when it's possible to hear recordings of the man himself creating many of these pieces, and in real time, the only answer is 'because you can'. The relationship between composition and improvisation in Brubeck's music is so complex as to defy analysis. The best of his compositions have the spontaneity of improvisation, while his improvisation has the rigour of composition. Of course this CD only uncovers the first half of that equation, but hearing Brubeck's music divorced from its original context highlights the sheer quality of this composed material.

This is John Salmon's second disc of Brubeck for Naxos, and its title, Nocturnes, might be slightly misleading. This isn't a dedicated set of Nocturnes, but rather 26 pieces drawn from the whole of Brubeck's long career and arranged into a satisfying narrative flow. Brubeck's melt-in-the-ear gorgeous ballad 'Strange Meadowlark' preceded 'Take Five' on his groundbreaking Time Out, while 'Study In Fourths', 'Chorale' and 'A Girl Named Oli' have all appeared on recent recordings.

Salmon excels at evoking Brubeck's spirit without falling into straight impersonation. As he recreates Brubeck's improvisation on 'Recuerdo', Salmon goes deep inside his wonderfully idiosyncratic left-hand patterns and tremelos, gently nudging against the grain. The devilishly clever harmonic spectra of 'I See, Satie' highlights how Brubeck's conceptual ear transforms even the most straightforward of starting points into something special; if these pieces reveal Brubeck delighting in the miniature, then the implications of his work have been vast.

Goran Forsling
MusicWeb International, October 2006

As can be seen from the heading the majority of these Nocturnes are short, a couple of them under one minute. As pianist John Salmon writes in his liner-notes these are: ‘small, lyrical pieces that can be played by children and savoured by adults.’ The score was published in 1997 and includes 24 pieces. Mr. Fats and I Still Am in Love With a Girl Named Oli are not nocturnes but included here to give a change of character. They are what could be termed "happy jazz", swinging songs you can’t help tapping your foot to. The titles of the pieces are often mood-evocative or give a hint of some person or event that triggered Brubeck’s inspiration. ‘Sometimes my pieces are like postcards’, he writes in his notes and goes some way to explain backgrounds that are not always possible to hear in the music. I See, Satie is a nod in the direction of the French composer Erik Satie who, when he was criticized for lack of form, wrote a piece in the shape of a pear. This is exactly what Brubeck has done: when seeing the printed music one notices that the notes form a pear shape in the last three measures. There are other similar visual gimmicks.

Some of the pieces carry direct allusions to his family life. I Still Am in Love With a Girl Named Oli was written to his wife after six decades of marriage. Joshua Redman was written as a homage to the saxophonist, who recorded this piece with Brubeck in 1995 and Audrey is Audrey Hepburn. I won’t tire you with more background information, only urge you to get the disc and read the notes: well-written and personal.

The music spans from swinging jazz to an impressionism not far removed from Debussy. Dave Brubeck studied, as is well known, with French composer Darius Milhaud so a certain affinity with the French is natural. Milhaud also encouraged Brubeck to include jazz elements in his serious compositions.

Some comments on pieces that caught my interest when listening the first time: the impressionist is heard in Looking at a Rainbow but this is no mere imitation; it has a personal Brubeckian twist. Nostalgia de México is short, simple but catchy. Strange Meadowlark is a song, one of Brubeck’s most performed compositions and can also be heard on Naxos in its vocal shape (see review). Recuerdo has some jazzy syncopation but also Brubeck’s typical mixing of time-signatures and the thick chords we remember from his jazz recordings. Softly, William, Softly was intended as an aria from a never-completed opera. It’s a nice piece with something of the air of the late night piano bar. The Desert and the Parched Land became a special favourite and so did Memories of a Viennese Park, which is a kind of homage to the Viennese Waltz. Last but definitely not least I must mention the two non-nocturnes: the swinging declaration of love to his Oli and the boogie-woogie tribute to Fats Waller. ‘The first record I ever purchased in my life was a Fats Waller recording’, Brubeck remembers in his notes.

John Salmon is an ideal interpreter of this music and being equally at home in both classical music and jazz he can choose to play the music as written or occasionally introducing improvisation.

The recording is excellent. The music may not be of the barnstorming kind that changes the world but the whole disc is a valuable document of one of the most versatile of American composers.

Michael Medved
September 2006

One of the joys of the Labor Day holiday from work (on my radio show, we played a pre-recorded program about the myths and misunderstandings concerning World War II) is the ability to steal a few moments to listen to music-- and to go through the stack of new CD's I've recently acquired with eager anticipation, but with no time to savor them with proper concentration.

Finally, then, I've gotten the chance to savor a magnificent new album of piano Nocturnes by Dave Brubeck--- yes, that Dave Brubeck -- the 86-year-old jazz immortal who, in the last few years, has earned new acclaim as a significant composer of classical music. Whether or not you've already developed a taste for classical piano pieces, or for jazz, you will adore these atmospheric, romantic, captivating pieces. Like the famous nocturnes by Chopin (or Irish composer John Field, who inspired Chopin) these little piano tone poems (26 of them on one disc) convey the sense of velvety, sensuous, star-kissed darkness-- the night as a time of magic and possibility and love. As Brubeck himself explains in the useful liner notes, all of the brief Nocturnes "rise out of his personal life," with loving tributes to his wife and his grandchildren, as well as titles like "Looking at a Rainbow" (recalling a memorable visit to Tokyo) or "Memories of a Viennese Park,." or "A Misty Morning." Whether you sit and listen and let the dreamy tones whisk you away (masterfully played by Brubeck's disciple, pianist John Salmon), or you choose to use the music as background for a midnight glass of wine, or a fire in the family room, or an intimate dinner with your significant other, these polished, instantly expressive gems are easy to cherish and impossible to resist.

If you enjoy the music of George Gershwin (and who doesn't, really?) and feel cheated, as I do, by his ridiculously early death at age 38 and his correspondingly limited output, discovering this CD is like unearthing a whole new treasure chest of Gershwin piano pieces. Many of the Brubeck Nocturnes convey the yearning and nostalgia that Gershwin communicated in "The George Gershwin Songbook" (his own piano arrangements of his most popular songs) but here the melodious materials also become tiny tone poems, impressionistic sound paintings, conveying distinctive and varied experiences and emotions. Distinctly American, vaguely jazzy and sentimental, rich as sunsets and autumn haze and yes, rainbows, the Brubeck Nocturnes wil enhance your life. They're available at an absurdly low price, too, despite the resonant, crisply articulated, unfailingly vivid recording quality by the experts at NAXOS, that makes even inexpensive reproduction systems sound audiofile. The CD is listed as DAVE BRUBECK NOCTURNES, from NAXOS, serial number 8.559301. It's 55 full (and fulfilling) minutes of music, recorded in North Carolina in 2005, with a list price of $8.99--- but frequently available for about seven bucks. It's a can't- miss investment in inspiration and romance.

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