GIG: Aug 5, 2010
Matt Brubeck, cello
David Braid, piano
I had really no idea of what to expect from this duo from Canada, other than that the musicians’ classical backgrounds would be evident and that I would in all likelihood enjoy the graceful depth of a cello. After the gig I found out that Matt Brubeck’s father is pianist Dave Brubeck, which is more a matter of interest than something that necessarily influences the cellist’s playing. He obviously has a career that does not depend on his dad’s pedigree.
These guys were relaxed and seemed to have lots of fun, despite the relatively small crowd we turned on. I think they warmed to the enthusiastic audience. Humour was often evident — after opening with Sniffin’ Around (Brubeck), which was a “plucky”, fragmentary piece that I did not immediately warm to, they played Braid’s Huevos Verdes Y Jambon (Green Eggs and Ham). This jaunty piece gave us a chance to hear the bowed cello’s full tone in a fairly busy romp with the piano. (I think that Imogen Manins‘ cello, heard occasionally at Bennetts Lane, has a slight edge in richness of tone.)
A slower piece was what I craved, and it was Mnemosyne’s March (Braid), inspired by the Greek goddess of memory. David Braid reminded us that antipodes was a Greek theory that a southern continent existed. The fluidity of his playing and gentle, expressive touch was carrying me away from the cello, but some sweeping excavations into the depths swayed me back to the strings. Yet this was still music with underlying tension underpinning the beauty.
In What Now? (Brubeck) — or is it What Next? — the musicians’ perfect understanding was evident as they played in sync, yet seemingly with the opportunity to surprise each other. Each player seemed at times to be quite independent, even separate. Rhythm was important, but there was fragmentation. And Brubeck played his instrument as would a classical cellist and also as would an acoustic bassist. The duo was tight in an abrupt finish.
Braid said his slow ballad Wash Away had a connection to Chopin nocturnes and a film about Ray Charles. The piano ushered in a beautiful, flowing bowed passage on cello and I floated off somewhere over the city. This was classical in feel and suited these two instruments so well.
The set closed with Brubeck’s Spirit Dance, inspired by the multicultural neighbourhoods in Toronto and an attempt to take a range of world musical styles and create a cohesive piece. There was active cello, unity in intricacy, and the piano helped build expectations met by sporadic bowing and plucking of strings before Brubeck’s bow echoed Braid’s perky piano. It built to a gentle crescendo.
The second set opened with the Brad Meldau piece The Falcon Will Fly Again, followed by what was the highlight for me, a traditional folk song picked up by the duo in Guangzhou during a tour of China, when they went for a walk and heard some elderly people singing by a lake. The melody was entitled Chun Jiang Hua Yue Ye (Spring River Flower Moon Night). Brubeck and Braid seemed to capture the local flavour so well, using plucked cello and piano prepared with chopsticks. To end the piece, Braid plucked the chopsticks from the piano one by one, giving the instrument’s strings rein to resonate delicately.
Splendiferous piano and flowing cello notes followed in the warm Interior Castles (Brubeck), which had a lush, expansive feel. Monk’s In Walked Bud seemed to move from classical (Bach?) to Stephane Grappelli, and then (to quote one of the visitng musicians, “from the ridiculous to the sublime”) we heard the tragic song It’s Not What It Was (Braid), which began with a long, classically influenced piano solo and included slow, bowed cello. It was restful and moving.
The final piece, the Juan Tizol standard Caravan, ended the night with some swing and Brubeck playing “bass” on his cello, with little strums for emphasis.
For David Braid and Matt Brubeck it was on with their Australian tour. For us it was time to vanish into the night, a small group treated to a delightful evening of fun and deeply expressive playing from two talented visitors from Toronto. May they return soon, to greater acclaim and bigger crowds.