Although Chris Brubeck, Bill Crofut, and Joel Brown made many fine recordings together prior to Crofut's death in early 1999, this CD is unique. It features baroque masterpieces by Bach, some of Dave Brubeck's (Chris' father, of course) most popular works, and a few other surprises. All but one piece is exquisitely orchestrated by Chris Brubeck, who had no formal training in the field. The musicians are accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Joel Revzen.
This CD defies classification more than any of the trio's other delightfully eclectic releases. Crofut's banjo is played so softly in Chris Brubeck's arrangements of Bach's works that it almost suggests a distant harpsichord, while the arranger plays piano. Brown's classical guitar roots are readily apparent in the treatment of "Praeludium for Lute." The orchestra is both precise and balanced well with the soloists. Crofut collaborated with fellow banjo player Bill Keith to compose "Blues Suite for Banjo and Orchestra," an attractive tune with a folksy feeling and a sense of humor that features great solos by both Crofut and Brown, along with some bluesy bass trombone by the arranger. Chris Brubeck's take of Scott Joplin's "Easy Winners" is especially appealing; its freshness could lead the way to yet another Joplin revival at the start of the 21st century. Several familiar Dave Brubeck works are included, the first of which, "Koto Song," a beautiful Japanese flavored blues, is orchestrated by Russell Gloyd (the elder Brubeck's long-time road manager who frequently conducts when the veteran pianist appears with a symphony orchestra). Gloyd captures the haunting beauty of this Brubeck gem, while Crofut's soft banjo becomes a very logical substitute for the koto. Chris Brubeck arranged and wrote the lyrics for his father's rhythmically challenging "Unsquare Dance," featuring the orchestra backing the trio with swinging country strings and a little funk interlude thrown in for fun; the humorous vocal is shared by the trio members. The finale is brothers Darius and Chris Brubeck's hard-driving chart of "Blue Rondo à la Turk," featuring Chris Brubeck on piano and some some fine banjo picking by Crofut.
Chris Brubeck's three-movement "Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra" demonstrates his considerable chops as a soloist. The opening movement, "Paradise Utopia," bursts with the energy of a bustling city at the height of the day; the middle section, "Sorrow Floats," is the most lyrical of the three, with Brubeck's mournful bass trombone solo; the final movement is the sidesplitting "James Brown in the Twilight Zone," in which the composer incorporates licks from both the theme song of Rod Serling's legendary TV series and the soul mega-hit "I Feel Good." Brubeck's chops are monstrous throughout this work, which is his greatest achievement within this very successful CD. The late Bill Crofut is acknowledged a huge debt by Chris Brubeck. It was Crofut who not only gave Brubeck his first opportunity to be a touring musician at age 17, but also encouraged him to do orchestrations and regularly feature himself on piano (though Brubeck was more comfortable on fretless bass guitar and bass trombone). Crofut's achievements can't be overlooked -- although he couldn't read music, he learned to play this CD's challenging music through experimentation and long hours of practice. Bill Crofut's contribution, along with the superb playing of Joel Brown and the considerable talents of Chris Brubeck, helped to make this highly recommended release what it is.