Sunday, June 28, 2009

June 28: Dave Brubeck Quartet, "Time Out"

Artist: Dave Brubeck Quartet
Album: Time Out
Year: 1959
Label: Columbia

An overwhelming majority of famous jazz musicians earned their fame because they pushed the limits of the genre into new territory and created new styles. However, there are equally amazing jazz greats who not only created fantastic music, but were able to keep the music within the realm of "pop" sensibilities. High atop this list is one of jazz music's finest legends, easily one of the greatest jazz pianists in history, Dave Brubeck. While he made countless amazing musical contributions on his own, his work with his "classic" quartet remains some of the most exceptional and influential music of his career. Well into his sixth decade of releasing superb jazz compositions, few musicians have had as much success over such a long period of time. Understandably, his recorded catalog is enormous, and it can be difficult to decide where to start with a musician of his caliber. The fact is, while he has piles of top notch records, his finest, and most influential recording can be found within his quartet's celebrated 1959 release, Time Out.

While it may seem as if nothing within the albums' title could be significant, it is actually a rather clever title that perfectly describes the reason why the album is so significant. At first listen, the music found on Time Out may seem quite "standard" jazz music. However, the reality is, it was on this record that Brubeck became cutting edge, as he explored various time signatures outside of the "traditional" 4/4 and 3/4. Brubeck went all over the place musically, from 6/4 to an outrageous (for the time) 9/8 on the song, "Blue Rondo a la Turk." Truth be told, Columbia Records were VERY hesitant to release the record, as they and many critics felt that tampering with such traditions was musical blasphemy. However, as they usually are, the critics and record label were completely wrong, as the classing song, "Take Five" became the first million selling jazz single in music history. The song, which happens to be played in the rarely heard "quintuple time," was actually not composed by Brubeck, but instead by the quartets' saxophone player, Paul Desmond. Powered by these two brilliant songs, the album reached number two on the charts, and in 2005, it was selected as one of fifty albums to be placed into the National Recording Library. One side note on the album, the song, "Kathy's Waltz," is, in fact, misspelled. It should have read "Cathy's Waltz," as it was composed for Brubeck's daughter, Cathy Brubeck.

As he was already a decade into his career, the group that Dave Brubeck had assembled as his quartet were, needless to say, some of the finest jazz players in the land. A number of musicians had already been through the ranks of the quartet, but in 1958, Brubeck found a trio of other musicians with whim he gelled perfectly, and thus, the famous "classic Brubeck Quartet" was formed. Coming out of the "cool jazz" scene of Los Angeles, Paul Desmond remains one of the most highly respected sax players in history. The contrast between his own more relaxed playing and Brubeck's more hard, polytonal approach is one of the elements that made the quartet so stellar. With one of the most perfect double bass techniques ever, Eugene "The Senator" Wright, gives all of the compositions on Time Out a wonderfully deep and rich feel. Having already played with the likes of Stan Kenton, and having turned down an invitation to join the bands of both Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, drummer Joe Morello may shine brightest on Time Out. With his resum├ę alone, he is one of the greatest jazz drummers ever, but the way in which he dazzles on the unorthodox time signatures is the true testament to how amazingly talented he was on drums. Morello is also famous as he was the teacher for both Danny Gottleib and Max Weinberg among many others. Each of the three musicians who joined Dave Brubeck for his famous quartet went on to lead their own bands, but it was their time as a group where they gained their most notoriety.

The quartet's namesake, Dave Brubeck, is easily one of the most diverse and influential jazz pianists in the history of music. Playing everything from extremely traditional and refined pieces to some of the loudest and most unorthodox parts, there are few pianists with the talent and range of Brubeck. It is Brubeck's ability to adapt his non-traditional time signatures and melodies into a sound that is very listenable and understandable that makes him one of the "household names" of jazz music. Aside from the aforementioned "Take Five," Brubeck composed every song on Time Out, and the songs give great insight into just how far his taste and ability in style ranged. From the slow and beautiful melodies of "Strange Meadow Lark" to the bouncing, "Blue Rondo a la Turk" to the swinging "Pick Up Sticks," Brubeck truly knows no musical bounds. It is also Brubeck's ability to keep his ego in check and let the other members of his quartet shine that makes his music so sensational. Though his own solos and melodies are nothing short of brilliant, letting the group "truly" be a quartet of four equals helps to life then entire group beyond the sum of its parts. In both his ability to compose and play extraordinary pieces, as well as his ability to surround himself with some of the finest musicians in history, Dave Brubeck is a true legend of jazz music.

Few jazz musicians have achieved the title and notoriety of "household name." A majority of the ones who have, have done so due to their avant and experimental style of playing and composing. While on the surface, the music of Dave Brubeck may not seem anything "odd" or extreme, it is the subtleties within his compositions that vaulted his music above his peers and helped him to indeed become a household name throughout the world. While his phenomenal talent is undeniable, the other three musicians who help to make up his "classic" Dave Brubeck Quartet are equally skilled, and their combined talents catapult the group into the stratosphere of great jazz groupings. Having released well over one hundred recordings over his sixty year career, the catalog of Dave Brubeck is by far, one of the largest of any artist in the history of music. Throughout this time, he has penned some of the most famous pieces in jazz, and his influence can be felt throughout nearly every genre of recorded music. Within this mountain of music, there are of course, countless outstanding records, but it is the Dave Brubeck Quartet's 1959 release, Time Out, that stands above the rest as their crowning achievement, and undoubtedly one of the most important records in both jazz history, as well as the overall history of music.

Standout tracks: "Blue Rondo a la Turk," "Take Five," and "Kathy's Waltz."

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