This is a superb CD which I have played countless times during the past ten years. But don't be deceived - on the whole this isn't a 'live' recording, despite the applause (both after the items and during them).
When this concert from London was broadcast on the UK's BBC Radio 3 in December 2000 we heard exactly what had taken place at the event itself. At this stage I cannot remember whether it was this concert or the similar Brubeck/LSO collaboration in London in December 1995 which was not transmitted 'live' but was instead broadcast a few days after the event - I recall that on one of those two occasions, the conductor, Russell Gloyd, made a reference to the concert being recorded for future transmission when he spoke to the audience whilst introducing items. Whatever the case, I taped the 2000 concert on audio cassette and enjoyed it so much that I played the tape repeatedly, long before the CD was released. As a result, I grew to know those broadcast performances in detail, and when the CD was released a year later, I was astonished at how much of it was evidently re-recorded after the concert. As soon as the jazzmen enter in the first number after the orchestral introduction, their improvisations are completely different from those we heard in the broadcast and it's much the same story throughout the disc, which appears to be edited together from fragments of the concert, from a post-concert recording session, and perhaps from the rehearsals preceding the concert. My estimate is that only about 20% of what we hear is actually taken from the concert.
This is not a criticism of Dave, just something which I think should be pointed out, given the extent to which the 'LSO Live' label disingenuously markets its releases with the false claim in the publicity that they contain spontaneous music-making possible only within a 'live' concert environment. This Brubeck CD is essentially a studio-style product, and it illustrates that wonderful spontaneous music-making can emerge from a hall with no audience present, not just in public concerts, contrary to the prejudice held by many non-professional listeners that studio recordings are usually dull and that 'live' recordings inevitably communicate more vividly. In addition, if Dave Brubeck feels that he can improve on his concert performance by re-recording 80% of his album after the concert in an empty hall, then that is his prerogative and we shouldn't argue with him. But the house label of a major London orchestra should not be so frankly dishonest as to try to deceive a gullible public that they are being offering 'live concerts' when they are not. Presumably the same is true for the 'LSO Live' classical releases, which are cynically marketed as possessing qualities only possible within 'live' music-making.
It's a pity that the electrifying first number after the interval (for me the highlight of the concert) was not included; with limited space on the CD, surely the item which should have been omitted was Dave's 'Brandenburg' variations, the only dull item of the evening. I am also disappointed that some of the striking improvisations heard in the concert during the Count Basie tribute have been edited out to make way for the very different (and more restrained) versions heard on this CD. One of the Amazon reviewers (Kenneth Nielsen) considers this a tame CD - I defer to his superior knowledge of Brubeck's work, and I have no wish to argue with him, but I would point out to him that what we heard in the concert which was broadcast from London was more adventurous than what is offered here. For some reason, Brubeck smoothed out everything for this commercial release.
Nevertheless, I find this wonderful CD inspiring. By jazz standards, this is conventional music-making, but the style is individual and the music is often fiery (Dave must have played 'Blue Rondo a la Turk' thousands of times but it still sounds committed here) at other times highly sensitive. Incidentally, I come from a 'classical' background, and I would urge anyone else with classical tastes to hear this album - not because of the presence of the LSO, but because classical enthusiasts may well find that they will feel at home with the harmonic sophistication of much of the music on offer here, particularly in a number such as 'In Your Own Sweet way'. The 'Chorale' suggests that Brubeck had been listening to Aaron Copland.
The recording was made in the Barbican Centre, London. Despite its size this is a hall where it seems difficult for engineers to obtain a resonant sound (witness the many classical releases from the Barbican with a 'flat' sound similar to that which one hears from the BBC's much smaller Maida Vale Studio 1). The characteristic dryness of sound is apparent here, though it doesn't diminish the impact of this music-making at all. Presumably Brubeck's piano is amplified. The production team credited on the disc consists of three of the industry's top technicians: James Mallinson, Jack Renner and Tony Faulkner.
I can only hope that one day we will also have a CD issue of the similar Brubeck/LSO concert given five years earlier in December 1995 (also broadcast on BBC Radio 3). The 1995 and 2000 programmes duplicated many numbers, but of course the improvisations were different on each night.