The Dave Brubek Quartet: Time Out

DaveBrubek_TimeOutSuperb 50th anniversary expansion of landmark jazz album

Though jazz was the popular music of the US for many decades, there are few post-40s jazz albums – modern jazz albums – that go down easily with non-jazz listeners. There have been pop-jazz crossovers that caught the public’s ear and even climbed the charts, but true jazz albums that can keep a pop listener’s attention are few and far between. The Dave Brubek Quartet’s 1959 release contains two tunes, the opening “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and the iconic “Take Five,” that surprised even the group’s own label with their popular acclaim. The album peaked at #2 on the pop chart, and “Take Five” was a hit single in both the US and UK. Much like Vince Guaraldi’s compositions for A Charlie Brown Christmas, listeners took to the melodies and performances without drawing genre lines around them.

The quartet’s approach wove Brubek’s blocky piano chords, Paul Desmond’s warm alto saxophone, and the gentle swing of bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello into a most inviting sound. One can’t compliment the rhythm section enough, as it’s their steady work that keeps one’s toe tapping through Brubek and Desmond’s melodic explorations, and its their rhythm that guides listeners through this album’s unusual time signatures. Morello’s introduction to “Take Five,” followed by Brubek’s vamping, have you tapping your foot in 5/4 time even before Desmond insinuates his sax with the theme. It has the rise and fall of a waltz, but when you count it out, the measures go to five instead of three. Amazingly, it feels completely organic. Morello’s spare, mid-tune solo provides a brilliant example of drumming dynamics.

The album opens with the 9/8 time of “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” with a 2/2/2/3 pattern that’s hard to count even with the numbers in front of you. The music swings in a frantic way that suggests rush hour in New York City until it transitions to a relaxed 4/4 (with 9/8 inserts) for the piano and sax solos. The fluidity with which the band shifts between the two time signatures would be even more breathtaking if it didn’t flow so naturally. Other tunes are played in waltz (3/4) and double waltz time, but you won’t notice until you count them out loud. Eugene Wright’s bass provides the steady pulse around which Brubek and Desmond swing, and the contrast between Brubek’s percussive piano and Desmond’s smooth sax gives the quartet its signature balance.

1959 was a banner year for jazz, seeing the releases of Giant Steps, the soundtrack to Anatomy of a Murder, Mingus Ah Um, Kind of Blue and many other milestones. But Time Out was the only album to break wide of jazz audiences, to seed itself in the broader public’s consciousness. And it did so on its own terms, rather than by pandering to the pop sounds of the mainstream. It foreshadowed the lightness and optimism that would mark the transition between the Eisenhower and Kennedy eras, and its tone obviously caught the mood of the times. Ted Maceo’s production paints an excellent stereo soundstage, which adds to the recording’s excitement.

Columbia Legacy’s 2-CD/1-DVD reissue augments the album’s seven tracks with a CD of live performances from the ’61, ’63 and ’64 Newport festivals that include the album’s hits and six additional titles. The basic roles of the players remain from their live-to-tape studio albums, but the concert performances are driven by fresh group interplay and more audacious soloing, and stoked by the audiences’ enthusiastic responses. “Pennies From Heaven” winds up with a forceful piano solo, and the original “Koto Song” provides a good example of Brubek’s interest in world sounds. “Take Five” is played at a hurried tempo that diminishes the song’s swing, but stretched to seven minutes it provides more space for soloing, including a longer spot for drummer Joe Morrello’s crackling snare and punchy tom-toms. All eight live tracks are recorded in stereo.

The bonus DVD offers a 2003 interview with Brubek, intercut with historical television and concert footage, and a few then-contemporary sequences of Brubek at his trusty Baldwin. Brubek discusses the album tracks and the dynamics of the band, and shows immense pride in both. An additional bonus provides a 4-angle piano lesson from Brubek as he plays through “Kathy’s Waltz.” The 3-disc package is presented in a quad-fold digipack with a 28-page booklet that includes detailed liner notes by Ted Gioia and fine archival photos. If you don’t have a digital copy of the album, this is the one to get; if you already have a much loved copy, this is well worth the upgrade. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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