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Brubeck's Best

Alto Take: 2 ALN 1933



1. Take Five

2. Blue Rondo ŕ la Turk

3. Unsquare Dance

4. It’s a Raggy Waltz

5. In Your Own Sweet Way

6. Three to Get Ready

7. Pick Up Sticks

8. Blue Shadows in the Street

9. Two-Part Contention

10. The Waltz

11. Everybody’s Jumpin’

12. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

13. I Feel Pretty

14. Camptown Races

15. Take the ‘A’ train


Dave Brubeck – Piano (all tracks)

Paul Desmond – Alto sax (all tracks except #5, 9, and 10)

Bob Bates – Bass (track #15)

Gene Wright – Bass (all tracks except #5, 9, 10, and 15)

Joe Dodge – Drums (track #15)

Joe Morello – Drums (all tracks except #5, 9, 10, and 15)


There are two errors in the data given for this CD that need correcting. The Take the ‘A’ Train performance was recorded in 1954, not 1959, for Columbia at a University of Michigan concert. Also, In Your Own Sweet Way was recorded by Brubeck in 1956, not 1955, again for Columbia, at the same solo piano session as Two-Part Contention and The Waltz.

The title of this CD also can be a bit misleading. All of the tracks are not by the quartet: there are three tracks, as indicated above, of solo performances by Brubeck. The rest are, with the exception of Take the ‘A’ Train, by what many people consider the “classic” Dave Brubeck Quartet, namely Brubeck accompanied by Paul Desmond, Gene Wright, and Joe Morello. As to whether the tracks included are the best of Brubeck, that is, as always, arguable, but I would not take issue with it other than to regret that one or two of my particular Brubeck Quartet favourites are not included.

Most of these tracks are taken from a time when Brubeck was still something of a phenomenon and still cementing his place in the jazz pantheon, especially that of the so-called “cool school” of the West Coast. No one else was including so many licks from classical composers, such as Mozart, and no one else was playing around with unusual time signatures, such as 5/4 (Take Five), 9/8 (Blue Rondo ŕ la Turk), 6/4 (Pick Up Sticks), or 7/4 (Unsquare Dance). The quartet also toyed with alternating time signatures within the same tune, as in Three to Get Ready where it switches back and forth between 3/4 and 4/4, or in Blue Rondo ŕ la Turk where there is some alternating between 9/8 and 4/4 prior to and following the 12-bar blues middle section.

While all of these innovations help define the Brubeck Quartet, the individual musicians also contribute to the group’s identity. Brubeck himself, with the classical influences he introduces to tunes, such as fugue figures, and what has been called the “locked-hands” style when he solos, often with a touch of bombast, played a large part. Desmond’s alto sax tone—wistful, dreamy (some critics have disparagingly referred to it as “effeminate”), yet melodic and a nice counterpart to Brubeck’s often crashing chords—was another. Wright’s bass playing was unspectacular but solid, providing a sure base on which the others could build. Last but certainly not least is Morello on drums. His ability to handle all of the difficult time signatures, floating above his three cohorts, is nothing short of amazing. Unlike so many other drummers with huge technique, he makes no attempt to hog the spotlight—in fact, if anything, he seems to shun it. His playing is delicate, thoughtful, lacking in bravado yet accommodating dynamics as needed. But he could—and did—make the group swing. Above all, however, the four blend perfectly into a single entity. Musicians often speak of getting into a “groove” where everything comes off, no matter what risks are taken. The classic Brubeck Quartet seems always to be firmly “in the groove,” as each cut by the group on this CD bears witness.

Probably Brubeck devotees will have most, if not all, of these tracks already in their collections, but for those who don’t, especially those coming to Brubeck for the first time, or for those whose Brubeck recordings are on vinyl, it is a useful compilation to have

Bert Thompson

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