The Dave Brubeck Quartet Featuring Paul Desmond – Brubeck Time – Columbia Records CL622 (1954)/Speakers Corner (2018) 180-gram mono vinyl, 40:00 ****1/2:

(Dave Brubeck – piano; Paul Desmond – alto saxophone; Bob Bates – double bass; Joe Dodge (drums)

Dave Brubeck’s legacy as a pianist and composer is unique. Having studied classical and jazz composition at the University Of The Pacific and Mills College, he approached his vision as a musician with complexity. In 1959, he integrated asymmetric meter into the album Take Five. With a unique time signature (5/4), the title song became a standard bearer for jazz crossover. Other compositions like “Blue Rondo A La Turk” (written in 9/8) are further examples of the unconventional use of time signatures. In conjunction with 20th century composers like Aaron Copland, Brubeck pioneered the interpretation of polytonality, the use of more than one key simultaneously. His signature technique of accelerated block chords is attributed to an injury from a swimming accident that caused nerve pain in his hands. His legacy transcends music, including being part of the first integrated military band in World War II, and his deflection on the prestigious Time cover which he attributed to his race (he thought Duke Ellington should have received the recognition). His accolades are too numerous to acknowledge.

Brubeck rose to stardom with the formation of the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951. In addition to a residency at San Francisco’s Black Hawk night club, the quartet became a sensation on the college circuit.  His early live albums reflected this success, including Jazz At Oberlin (1953), Jazz At The College Of The Pacific (1953), and the first Columbia release, Jazz Goes To College (1954). That year, Brubeck’s Time Magazine cover changed his life forever. It also marked this initial foray into studio recordings with Brubeck Time. He recorded for decades (live and studio albums), but there was no doubt, 1954 was a flashpoint.

Portrait Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond

Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond

Speakers Corner has released a re-mastered vinyl recording of Brubeck Time (Featuring Paul Desmond). The quartet included Brubeck, Paul Desmond (alto saxophone), Bob Bates (double bass) and Joe Dodge (drums), This mono recording (Columbia was noted for their excellence in mono fidelity) is a testament to the compelling music of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Side A opens with “Audrey” (named after an imaginary meeting with Audrey Hepburn) an original composition co-written by Brubeck and Desmond. After a slow ethereal, piano intro, Desmond takes the lead with his lyrical alto. Seemingly underrated compared to his fellow alto saxophonists, Desmond defines the spirit of cool jazz with his fluid, mellifluous (not easy on alto) tonality, even with a slight dissonance. Brubeck answers with a melancholic run that glows with sophistication. Then both soloists join together in agile key changes. Changing pace “Jeepers Creepers” (popularized by Louis Armstrong) is big-time swing. Brubeck lays down his trademark percussive chords, as his counterpart fills in with deft notation. Desmond has another fluid solo before handing it off to Brubeck. The bluesy piano riffs complement the alto sound. The punctuated chording transforms the melody.

“Pennies From Heaven” has doubled as a pop and jazz standard. This medium-swing (near homage to big band) ditty is anchored by Bates’ walking double bass and Dodge’s brush cymbal. Brubeck embraces a playful, loping cadence, infusing his solo with gospel-tinged flourishes. His chord manipulation at times feel like a re-writing of the song, but with the same basic structure. As Desmond joins in, the two exchange riffs seamlessly with eloquence and innate chemistry. “Why Do I Love You” was a sentimental love ballad from the Broadway hit, “Showboat”. In the hands of the Dave Brubeck Quartet it is a jazzy up-tempo barrage of hot licks. Desmond wails on his solo, pushing the tonal boundaries of his instrument. Brubeck explodes with rhythmic, harmonic ferocity. The rhythm section is cohesive with supple double bass fills. Side B kicks off with “Stompin’ For Mili”. There is an amusing back-story concerning Time photographer Gjon Mili (best known for magazine work of Pablo Picasso and the jazz documentary Jammin’ The Blues) and the tenuous relationship with this session. Brubeck Time begins in a straight ahead arrangement with Desmond on lead. Brubeck and Bates weave around the alto. The first piano solo is expressed in prominent chords against single notation with staccato accents. This high energy jam is permeated by Brubeck’s complicated descending (and then ascending) chord runs. There are several drum fills before Desmond returns floating in and out with classical motifs.

Reaching back to bluesier roots, Fats Waller’s “Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now” takes on minor key blues (as stated by D.B. in the liner notes). The ensemble translates the buoyant vibe of Waller as Desmond commits to an extended solo, pushing the tonal boundaries. Brubeck’s lines are sprightly with effective trills and crashing vitality. Jerome Kern’s beloved “A Fine Romance” (notably covered by Fred Astaire and Billie Holiday) exudes an easy bandstand swing. Desmond and Brubeck intone a sweeping eloquence as they layer lines on top of lines. In an inspired finale. “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” reaffirms the poignancy of the depression-era context. Paul and Dave initially stay close to the original, and Brubeck then injects a cosmopolitan wistfullness (with some rhythm). Desmond takes it out for a amiable ride and the duo concludes with delayed follow, harmony and counterpoint.

This vinyl upgrade is stellar. The no-frills mono fidelity is captured with precision and even mixing. Desmond’s alto is crisp and mellow. Brubeck’s piano is mic’d perfectly and blends in with the other musicians.  The anecdotal liner notes are refreshing and the original album cover includes an abstract painting Boris Artzybasheff

Brubeck Time is a classic!       

Side A: Audrey; Jeepers Creepers; Pennies from Heaven; Why Do I Love You
Side B: Stompin’ For Mili; Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now; A Fine Romance; Brother, Can You Spare A Dime

—Robbie Gerson