Friday, December 11, 2020

CD Review: The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time OutTakes

The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Time OutTakes 

Dave Brubeck's Time Out wasn't the first jazz album to break away from 4/4 time, but it was the album that took the farthest away from "standard" swing - without sacrificing the swing in the process. Its centerpiece, "Take Five" became a hit single and, arguably, one of the best known songs in jazz, all while it resided in what could be one of the most rigid time signatures of all - 5/4. "Blue Rondo A La Turk" crossed the blues with a Turkish rhythm and proved that if you could hum the melody, it didn't seem so odd after all.

Time OutTakes, released within days of what would have been Brubeck's 100th birthday, presents something that the general public has never heard since Time Out's original 1959 release - alternate takes of that album's music. According to Chris Brubeck - Dave's bass and trombone playing son - there exists more than 12 hours of music from the original sessions. "Take Five," which was credited to alto saxophonist Paul Desmond rather than the pianist, took a while to take shape, so the story goes. Drummer Joe Morello worked hard to get a good groove underneath it before he eventually felt comfortable enough to create a groovy solo built on melody as much as rhythm.

The chance to hear the song slowly take shape might be akin to hearing Bud Powell arrive at a definitive version of "Un Poco Loco," a song which always appeared in three takes when it was released on album. But the complete evolution of "Take Five" will have to wait for another day. Time OutTakes sticks to an LP-length format, with one alternate of each song from the album, save for "Pick Up Sticks" and "Everybody's Jumpin'" (both completed in one take). In their place comes a version of "I'm In A Dancing Mood" - arranged to maintain the album's theme of radical time shifts - and "Watusi Jam," an improv that is based on "Watusi Drums," which the band recorded a year prior on their In Europe album. The album ends with a four-minute collage of studio banter from the original sessions. 

Although the album isn't a deluxe boxset with myriad takes and false starts (though the Brubeck siblings offer inciteful notes), it is the first ever chance to peak behind the masters and get some clue on how they came to be the gold standards. What's here should tantalize everyone who has memorized the record. "Take Five" catches the band before Morello solidified his groove. Interestingly, Desmond sounds like he's struggling to find a place to catch his breath during the opening chorus. Unlike the master, in which Brubeck and bassist Eugene Wright continue their ostinato during the drum solo, they drop off. Perhaps as a result, Morello gets wild during this solo instead of displaying economical swing. 

An equal amount of jazz quartet aggression comes in "Blue Rondo A La Turk." The transitions between 9/8 and 4/4 have more punch. Both Desmond and Brubeck draw on more of a blues vocabulary here than they do in the master. Dave even sounds at times like Thelonious Monk, with quotes from the 9/8 theme sprinkled over his much longer solo. The lyrical "Strange Meadowlark" also has more jazz licks and syncopation from both soloists.

"Three To Get Ready" can be a little unsettling with its alternating two bars of 3/4 and two of 4/4, but Desmond bridges the transition smoothly while Brubeck, perhaps in response, utilizes his trademark habit of stretching the time over the group. In "Cathy's Waltz" - named from Brubeck's daughter who corrects the spelling in her notes from what "Kolumbia" Records used on the cover - Morello and Wright seem to move along with Brubeck as he shifts toward 4, rather than maintaining the waltz beneath him.

The track of studio banter is fun though it ultimately feels like a teaser. Chatter leads into a songs, which fade into the next bit of talk. Anyone who thinks this group was too serious will be surprised by the regular laughter between tracks, as when Brubeck flubs the "Strange Meadlowlark" introduction, saying he couldn't play it perfectly as he did on a previous take. Bits of "Take Five" again hint at what went on, but still only offer a fleeting glimpse. Maybe Sony would only allow a certain amount of music and talk to leave their vaults for this album. (This release is by the family-owned Brubeck Editions, not Columbia or Sony). But a whole disc devoted to "The Evolution of 'Take Five'' would surely be devoured by all manner of fans.

In the meantime, dig in. Happy Centennial, Dave.

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