Sunday, September 12, 2010

September 12: Dave Brubeck Quartet, "Blue Rondo à la Turk"

Artist: Dave Brubeck Quartet
Song: "Blue Rondo à la Turk"
Album: Time Out
Year: 1959

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Within every musical genre, there is the unexplainable phenomena of the handful of amazing artists who seem to be placed into the "second tier" of performers, though there is no question that their impact was on par with that of the most famous members of their particular genre.  In some cases, this was due to an overwhelming amount of talented artists during a particular era, while in other cases it was due to the artist in question simply being overshadowed by another artist at their peak.  Taking this in any way one wishes, it remains one of the more strange and almost tragic facts that Dave Brubeck is rarely mentioned in within the list of the greatest jazz musicians in history.  Looking back at his recorded catalog, he is without question worthy, as his compositions stand today as massively influential, and few artists worked in as wide a range of styles and time signatures as one finds within his work.  Furthermore, it was many of these songs written in odd time signatures that gained popular success, and a number of Brubeck compositions have become jazz standards.  Truth be told, by the time he gained international notoriety, he was already a decade into his career, and yet it was his 1959 masterpiece, Time Out, that remains today an absolute landmark within jazz history.  Filled with some of his most memorable and creative compositions, every song is a classic, and one can hear everything that made Dave Brubeck such a jazz giant within his 1959 single, "Blue Rondo à la Turk."

"Blue Rondo à la Turk" opens with a repeated opening musical phrase played by Brubeck on piano, and then echoed by Paul Desmond on alto saxophone.   The pair continue to trade off and counter one anothers' progressions throughout the song, and the interplay between these two performers is one of the keys that made The Dave Brubeck Quartet suck a hit.  When the two sync up at certain parts, it gives the song an almost entirely different feel, and it is also within this aspect of the music that "Blue Rondo à la Turk" gains a unique sense of movement.  The song seems to twist and float at different points, and due to the faster pace of the song, there are few other jazz compositions that sound even remotely similar.  It is also perhaps due to this unique sound that "Blue Rondo à la Turk" gained the following that it did, and as the opening tack on Time Out, the song certainly kept listeners engaged and wondering what would come next.  Furthermore, both Brubeck and Desmond perform brilliantly on "Blue Rondo à la Turk," and one cannot deny the amazing level of musicianship within all four members of the quartet.  Even after hearing only a single track from the group, due to both the style in which they play, as well as the fantastic interplay between them, one can easily make the case as The Dave Brubeck Quartet being one of the most elite musical groupings in history.  The manner with with Brubeck and Desmond dance across the track is one of the keys to this argument, and they are clearly in top form on "Blue Rondo à la Turk."

Beyond his amazing talents as a pianist, one can easily make the case that Dave Brubeck was one of, if not the most pioneering composer in terms of using unique time signatures.  While an overwhelming majority of jazz musicians played within a small handful of tempos, Brubeck not only used "new" time signatures, but he also showed an amazing talent for changing speeds, often within the same song.  This made the job of being his rhythm section perhaps the most challenging of his era, and drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright were clearly up to the task.  Truth be told, "Blue Rondo à la Turk" begins in a 12/8 time signature and then moves into a 9/8 tempo during the song before shifting back to where it began.  While it may only be numbers to some, the fact that Brubeck was willing to explore such non-traditional styles gives "Blue Rondo à la Turk" an unparalleled sound and mood, and one can hear a strong Turkish influence throughout the song.  Morello keeps a light tone for the entire song, and yet it is also within his playing that one can grasp the true soul of the composition.  Similarly, Wright flys up and down his double-bass, giving "Blue Rondo à la Turk" one of the finest mixtures of the "hot" sound of the East Coast and the West Coast "cool."  This pairing of sounds and styles across the brilliant rhythmic changes placed "Blue Rondo à la Turk" into the most elite and revered jazz compositions in history.

One of the main reasons that "Blue Rondo à la Turk" is slightly overlooked by critics is the fact that it was the b-side to Brubeck's most well known song, "Take Five."  The pairing of the two songs makes the single one of the greatest ever released, and both sides show the amazing talent in playing and composition of Brubeck and his quartet.  However, while "Take Five" is legendary in its own right, the fact of the matter is, it is a rather tame and straightforward composition when compared to the sound and style found on "Blue Rondo à la Turk."  It is the b-side that shows off the full extent of the talent within Brubeck's quartet, and one can make the case that though they would release many other songs, their performance here stands as their finest recording.  Over the decades, "Blue Rondo à la Turk" has been covered and reinterpreted by a number of artists, but the fact remains that none of them even come close to the energy and style found on the original.  Whether it is the mesmerizing interplay between Brubeck and Desmond or the stunning style shown by Morello and Wright, few can argue that The Dave Brubeck Quartet knew any players of equal stature in 1959.  The manner with which the quartet pull together and then push out on their own in seamless fashion is nothing short of stunning, and it also shows the unmatched level of chemistry within the players.  Though it is often an afterthought to other jazz legends, one cannot deny the unparalleled style and performance found on The Dave Brubeck Quartet's 1959 classic, "Blue Rondo à la Turk."

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