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Players with seasoning bring the most spice to the Bowl

Dave Brubeck and his experienced mates stand out. Bruce Hornsby brings energy.

August 24, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The message was loud and clear Wednesday at the Hollywood Bowl: Don't overlook the fogies.

Singer Madeleine Peyroux may be an increasingly visible pop-jazz crossover vocalist. And Bruce Hornsby's venture into jazz may have been the most newsworthy aspect of the concert. But it was the set by the Dave Brubeck Quartet that picked up the performance and ran away with it.

Ranging in age from Brubeck's 87 to alto saxophonist-flutist Bobby Militello's 57, the quartet, looking snowy-haired and unassuming, arrived on stage between Peyroux's opening set and Hornsby's closer. Announcing that the quartet would begin with the "oldest blues ever written, the 'St. Louis Blues,' " Brubeck added that W.C. Handy had "originally composed it as a tango." And when drummer Randy Jones immediately kicked into a vigorous tango rhythm, any condescending thoughts regarding jazz and seniors were quickly blown away.

Next, as if to affirm the liveliness of tradition, Brubeck dipped into the 1920 hit "Margie," a tune once performed by the likes of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and Eddie Cantor. In the hands of the Brubeck Quartet, enhanced by a stunningly virtuosic alto solo from Militello, it was as alive and vigorous (if not as topical) as Timbaland's latest hit.

The highlight of the Brubeck program was a gorgeous rendering of "Over the Rainbow," featuring Militello's lyrical flute playing -- a stunning blend of melodic intimacy and swirling, impressionistic ornamentation. It triggered the only standing ovation of the evening.

Brubeck, who was in magisterial command of the set, clearly enjoying every minute, finished up, predictably, with a lively romp through "Take Five."

Hornsby had plenty of power with him thanks to bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jack DeJohnette. And Hornsby, whose affection for jazz has been an intrinsic element in his career, was in a high-energy mode.

To his credit, he chose to play some of the most demanding tunes from "Camp Meeting," his new CD with McBride and DeJohnette, not the stuff of your typical jazz set. Hornsby handled them with the sort of probing enthusiasm suggesting that -- given the right amount of focus and time -- his jazz chops have impressive potential.

Peyroux's opening program had an oddly morose quality, best typified by a dark and moody rendering of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'." Still captivated by impressions of Billie Holiday (emphasized, perhaps, for the sake of a jazz program) her singing is a style in search of a personality.

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