Thursday, March 17, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 846: The Dave Brubeck Quartet

I delayed reviewing this album for an extra day just so I could listen to it a little more.

Disc 846 is….Time Out
Artist: The Dave Brubeck Quartet

Year of Release: 1959

What’s up with the Cover? I’m not sure. Some modern art from back in the fifties. This isn’t usually my thing, but I really like it here, and it suits the record well.

How I Came To Know It: Sheila introduced me to Dave Brubeck. I think her dad introduced her (he was a jazz guy) and we even have his copy of this album on vinyl, which is pretty cool.

How It Stacks Up:  This is the only Dave Brubeck album we have so it can’t really stack up.

Ratings: 5 stars

“Time Out” is the greatest jazz record of all time and I should know, because I have like eight jazz albums. I’m pretty much an expert.

Actually, I know next to nothing about jazz. I rarely understand it and I enjoy it even less often, which is what makes “Time Out” such a revelation. Four musicians – Dave Brubeck (piano), Paul Desmond (saxophone), Eugene Wright (bass) and Joe Morello (drums) all at the height of their craft; each one contributing their genius to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

“Time Out” is energized but never frantic. This is an album for a stroll through your favourite city. You can walk quickly and feel the electricity of it all, or you can amble down the backstreets and enjoy how chill it is. You can spend your time following the rhythm section around, or you can float on the melodies supplied by the piano and saxophone. You can’t go wrong, because there aren’t any missteps anywhere in the mix.

The album is appropriately titled, with its varied time signatures, each more complicated than the last. I’d point out what they are but I don’t understand music well enough to decipher them. There are lots of articles on line that will do it for you, though, since this record has rightly captured the attention of generations of music lovers. What I do know is when you listen to it the general absence of obvious 3/4 or 4/4 time signatures gives the music a restless quality. You’re not sure where it is going to land at any given moment and this keeps your ear active to every turn of the song.

Similarly the melody plays against itself, echoing its way back and forth through various chord progressions. Again, I can’t explain how it all works because I don’t know music theory well enough to do it justice. I just know there is a symmetry and balance throughout. It is the musical equivalent of a tap dancer playing at being slightly out of balance to create energy and drama, yet knowing exactly where his heel or toe is going to land next. Put another way this album takes complex math equations and makes them beautiful.

In lesser hands playing fast and loose with the time signature and bouncing around inside the melody like this is a recipe for disaster. Too often jazz musicians are trying to show the audience how clever they are and fail to make a song listenable. Clever doesn’t always equal good.

Dave Brubeck and his gang of masters do not let their egos wreck their songs. Every track is a joy; a musical journey where each step is in a new direction. Despite the shifts in focus the notes are so artfully placed you are just happy to be along to see where the musical walk will take you.

At the end of this record’s all too short 38 minutes I always feel both well rested and alert. It is like I’ve been meditating the whole time and come out of the experience recharged and relaxed.

“Time Out” was recorded over 45 years ago, but it remains as fresh and interesting as ever. It is one of those albums that I know I’ll play hundreds of times between now and the day I shuffle off this mortal coil and never tire of hearing it. It is a masterpiece.

Best tracks:  All tracks

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