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The Dave Brubeck Quartet

Time Out [Legacy Edition]


May 29, 2009 The Dave Brubeck Quartet Bookmark and Share

NOTE: Most musicologists agree that 1959 was to jazz what 1967 was to rock ‘n’ roll (and, subsequently, music-milestone marketing). For whatever reason, cosmic or otherwise, its heaviest hitters were all swinging in peak form. Here’s a brief list: Thelonious Monk: The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall; Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come; John Coltrane: Giant Steps; Miles Davis: Kind of Blue; Duke Ellington: Jazz Party; Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um; The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Time Out; and Ray Charles: The Genius of Ray Charles. Columbia Records was lucky enough to have waxed a few of those watersheds and is now presenting them in 50th anniversary editions as part of its “1959 - Jazz’s Greatest Year” reissue campaign. Under the Radar examines three of those titles.

Of all the works released that strange, mystical year, none came close to the cultural saturation or financial bonanza of Time Out, by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Its million-selling “Take Five” single assured the full platter prominence in any personal stash, which is funny in retrospect, considering Columbia’s initial reservations about its potential. Too weird, they said. (Brubeck later claimed they expressed similar concerns about its abstract cover, designed by in-house art director S. Neil Fujita in the spirit of Joan Miro.) In an interesting twist, the album was championed by label head Goddard Lieberson, himself a composer. That was all the support it needed, really. Skeptics thus brushed aside, Time Out landed in stores 11 days before Christmas 1959.

It didn’t take long for Columbia to believe in Santa Claus. By 1961, when the album was, amazingly, clutching the #2 spot on the Billboard Pop chart, the label was orgasmic. “Even the squarest of the squares are beginning to see the light!” barked a sales sheet, with the fervor of the converted. “You are riding the tail of a comet!” Brubeck, of course, was promoting another record by then. Its title: Time Further Out.

So, then. How does this landmark sound now, with time even further further out? Does its historic stature make it impervious to modern critique? Is it possible to hear “Take Five”—a jazz evergreen that today spills as naturally from Brubeck’s 88-year-old fingers as sunlight through a window—with virgin ears? Can it reach through withered and wrinkled crackles and pops—past its own shadow, past its association with the ‘50s, past its evolution into cultural shorthand (“I hear you’re mad about Brubeck,” Donald Fagen purred in 1982’s “New Frontier,” cooing seductively at his prey)—and still feel like a jaunt atop a comet’s tail?


The quartet was a curious, slightly askance affair. Drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright poured the martini, saxophonist Paul Desmond stirred it to optimum intoxication, and Brubeck topped it with an olive. Desmond forged the smokiest curves, his every honk a wink. “Take Five” was his baby, a concoction inspired, according to him, by a “slot machine in Reno which produced an ominous but regular series of 5 clicks as the coins vanished.” Truly, Morello’s rambunctious solo spills like a burst of change as Brubeck taps at the melody, patiently waiting him out until Desmond calls him in. “Blue Rondo à la Turk” spotlights the Brubeck/Desmond partnership as the latter bathes the former in an after-hours hue. The odd time signatures that dominate Time Out—the ones that made Mother Label so apprehensive—are accorded a childlike giddiness in “Kathy’s Waltz,” where Morello and Brubeck play as if unaware of each other’s presence, lost in their own reverie. Brubeck works an upscale ballroom; Morello strikes in a club downtown. They don’t mesh, but somehow they work, as does the album itself, nearly 50 years later. Too weird, indeed.

Columbia’s given Time Out the royal treatment, fattening the otherwise modest 40-minute slab with a second disc of previously unissued live performances from the Newport Jazz Festival and a DVD. It’s a thick sucker now. The concert stuff’s the real draw, a valuable treat to anyone unfamiliar with the foursome outside the studio (or who relegated the crossover sensation to the “White Folks at Leisure” bin). They’re looser and faster onstage, with Brubeck chopping keys at Cuisinart speed. Their “Pennies from Heaven,” falls like Armageddon. Interestingly, “Turk” and “Take Five” are each about a minute longer than their LP counterparts yet zip past at a racecar’s pace. It’s such a nice companion that the DVD feels insubstantial, a paltry 30 minutes of a five-year-old Brubeck interview and multi-camera footage of the artist at the keyboard. An expanded documentary would’ve been nice, perhaps with testimonials from fellow artists, contemporaries, and assorted pundits. Nevertheless, with the Newport material and an excellent new essay by jazz.com founding editor, Ted Gioia, Time Out‘s earned a spot in the most space-age of bachelor pads, ready to soundtrack the next social-networking mixer. (www.davebrubeck.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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Mark Ewans
February 5th 2010

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