Dave Brubeck

The Light in the Wilderness: An Oratorio for Today

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Dave Brubeck broke up his famous quartet in 1967 in order to start fulfilling his ambitions as a composer of religious concert works, and this fascinating, highly eclectic oratorio was the first result. Sprawling over two LPs, it remains Brubeck's longest work to date, and it lays down a general blueprint for much of what was to follow -- uninhibited thrusts into idioms that Brubeck had never explored in a jazz combo format, some interludes for his jazz trio, distinctively Brubeck-ian polytonal writing, and tricky meters and rhythms for the chorus and orchestra to follow. At one point, Brubeck's piano goes into an Indian raga, with tablas instead of a drum kit for backing (this was, after all, conceived in the flower-power era). At other times, he can be heard in strong, affirmative form with the trio in segments that dovetail neatly in and out of the classical writing. In one memorable stretch in Pt. 1, the jazz rhythm section and classical forces meet, and the fusion is amazingly tight and right. No doubt it helped to have an open-minded conductor like the young Erich Kunzel (of later "pops" concert fame) who could get the elephantine Cincinnati Symphony to swing and wail like a big band when needed. Above all, there is a guileless sincerity about this piece that communicates even if you don't share Brubeck's religious convictions.

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