Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Music Review: The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Box Set
With The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time box set, Sony Music have done a nice job of repackaging five of his classic early sixties albums. They have reproduced the original LP s exactly, albeit from a 12 x 12 inch source down to an impossibly small 5 x 5 inch form. While the notes are basically impossible to read without a magnifying glass, including them is a nice touch, as they have typically been left off of previous reissues.
Brubeck’s Quartet was one of the outstanding jazz groups of its day. Besides Mr. Brubeck playing the piano, there was the great Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello drumming. The “Time” theme stems from the individual album titles, and Brubeck’s interest in utilizing various time signatures in his compositions.
It began in 1959 with Time Out. This album stands with Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis, and My Favorite Things from John Coltrane as one of the definitive LPs of the era. “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” and “Take Five” are acknowledged jazz classics. Time Out’s remaining four tracks are pretty great too.
The “busy” arrangement of “Blue Rondo” opens the record, and is a song that just about everybody has probably heard at some point, even if they do not recognize the title. The knock on Brubeck, and other white West Coast players of the period was that they were too intellectual. The derogatory term “Cool Jazz,” was used, because supposedly the music did not swing. One listen to this track proves otherwise.
The beautiful “Strange Meadow Lark” follows, and features some gorgeous piano work from Brubeck, not to mention Desmond‘s sax toward the end. Rounding out side one of the original LP is the classic “Take Five.” The aura of mystery, odd time signatures, and excellent instrumentation combine to make this one of the finest jazz cuts ever.
The remaining four are just as strong. Columbia Records executives did not expect much to happen sales-wise from Time Out, and were pleasantly surprised when it took off. Naturally they immediately began pressuring Brubeck for a follow-up.
He responded with Time Further Out (1961), an album far more creative than the title suggests. Subtitled Miro Reflections, the idea was to musically interpret the painting that adorns the cover. Artist Joan Miro called it PAINTING 1925.
Brubeck continues his experiments with modes of time - everything from blues to ragtime, boogie woogie to the waltz are explored. Personal favorites are “Bluette,” and the wild 7/4 “Unsquare Dance.” What the connection these tunes have to the abstract cover art are anyone’s guess, but they all sound fantastic. This reissue adds two bonus cuts, “Slow And Easy,” and a live version of “It’s A Raggy Waltz” from Carnegie Hall.
Countdown: Time In Outer Space (1962) was next. Despite the title, this is anything but Space Age Bachelor Pad music. Brubeck may have been listening to the marketing department in regards to naming his albums, but nobody got in the way of his music. This is one of the most creative records of his career, and also one of the least well known.
It begins with “Countdown.” Listening to the introductory tympani solo was one of the strangest things I have come across in quite a while. Evidently this album made its way to Australia, and into the record collection of the Young family. The Angus Young of AC/DC fame family that is. Subconsciously or otherwise, the famous opening riff of that group’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” was lifted note for note from Brubeck’s “Countdown.” It is bizarre, but there is no mistaking it.
Elsewhere, we find the Quartet covering the classic “Someday My Prince Will Come,” to excellent effect. Incidentally, fellow Columbia Records artist Miles Davis had issued his version of the tune as the title track of an album the previous year.
There are also four pieces on Countdown from Brubeck’s first ballet, A Maiden In The Tower. They are titled “Fast Life,” “Waltz Limp,” “Three’s A Crowd,” and “Danse Duet,” and form a remarkable miniature suite. The bonus track appended is titled "Fatha," presumably a tribute to pianist Earl "Fatha" Hines.
Brubeck took the idea of a suite to heart with his next album Time Changes (1963). The five cuts that make the original LP’s side one are classic Quartet material. Desmond’s sax playing is as great as ever, as is the rest of the group’s playing. The compositions are all top notch as well.
The 16:40 “Elementals” is a different kettle of fish altogether. In essence, the piece is basically a concerto for Quartet and orchestra. The “Elementals” the title refers to are some of those artists whose music has inspired the composer over the years. This is achieved by embedding a number of small musical quotes into the overall piece. The motif is that of “My Favorite Things,” although Rogers and Hammerstein are uncredited.
It’s cute, it’s very Boston Pops - and it is just not my cup of tea. There are plenty of Brubeck fans who do like it however, so I will refrain from any more critiques. “Elementals” is basically one of those love it or hate it type things.
The final album of the five is Time In (1966). The eight tracks that comprise this recording break little new ground, but are classic Brubeck - and still sound fantastic. This set appends three bonus cuts, all sound as if they should have been included on the orginal release. Dave Brubeck was already something of an elder statesman at this point (albeit a reluctant one), but I think that had more to do with what he had already accomplished than anything else.
At the price Sony is offering this set for, I highly recommend it. Whether or not one considers all five of these albums “must-owns” or not, this is an excellent way to get to know some of his music.
As Donald Fagen once sang about Brubeck, just a little over 20 years after the release of Time Out: “He’s an artist, a pioneer, we’ve got to have some music on the New Frontier.”
Article first published as Music Review: The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Box Set on Blogcritics.