Dave Brubeck’s Lullabies: Marginalia or Major Revelations?

Conventional wisdom is that music written for family and kids is ephemera. In reality, the reverse is often true: take the Bach Klavierubung, or Bartok’s Mikrokosmos, for example. Freed from the demands of concert audiences or record labels, a composer can follow his or her own muse. Where does the new Dave Brubeck Lullabies solo piano compilation – streaming at Spotify – fall between those two extremes? Somewhere in between.

Brubeck famously broke up his legendary quartet so he could spend more time at home with his kids, so it’s no surprise that he would record this material, albeit decades later for his grandchildren. It’s his last studio recording, but his chops are undiminished. He bookends the album with appropriately tender, subtly ornamented takes of the famous Brahms lullaby. The tracks everybody wants to hear, obviously, are the originals. Going to Sleep is catchy, on the sparse side and strongly echoes Debussy. Lullaby For Iola, written for his beloved wife, is a similarly spacious pavane.

Softly, William, Softly is arguably the best and most poignantly folksy of the bunch. Brubeck deviously reharmonizes Brahms for Briar Bush. The last one, a solo take of Koto Song wasn’t included with the digital promo for the record.

Gershwin’s Summertime fits in perfectly here, in a casual, lyrical way; brooding bluesiness aside, it’s a lullaby, after all. Brubeck works a low-key, subtly ragtime-inflected sway in When It’s Sleepy Time Down South and makes stately art-song out of There’s No Place Like Home.

He indulges in a bit of unexpected dynamics in an otherwise tender take of A Dream Is a Wish Is Your Heart Makes and finds spare resilience as well as classical heroism in All Through the Night. And he goes deeper into lustrous neoromantic mode with the simply titled Sleep.

He also makes lullabies out of a famous Irish ballad and that number from the Wizard of Oz that needs to be put to sleep forever. This isn’t exactly Brubeck at his most irrepressibly inventive, but it’s unbeatable as functional music. Some of the luckiest members of the generation just being born may someday have fond memories of this completely different side of a jazz icon.