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THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET
Featuring Paul Desmond.
On The Radio: LIVE 1956-57

Acrobat Music AMACD015, 71:21. myspace.com/acrobatrecords

Review by Stefan Pohlit

Tracks 1-12: Broadcast live from Basin Street Jazz Club, New York City during February1956. Personnel: Dave Brubeck [piano]; Paul Desmond [alto sax]; Norman Bates [bass]; Joe Morello [drums].

Tracks 13-15: Broadcast live from The Blue Note, Chicago during March 1957. Personnel: Dave Brubeck [piano]; Paul Desmond [Alto Sax]; Norman Bates [bass]; Joe Dodge [drums].


The latest release from Acrobat Music's Live Recordings series features fifteen tracks of previously unpublished live recordings from radio performances of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, remastered and regrouped from probably three different 25-minutes sessions at Basin Street Jazz Club in New York of 1956 and one concert at Chicago's Blue Note of 1957.

During the late fifties, when the war period's bebop culture had long since spread out of its hidden jazz club retreats in Harlem, and the West-Coast "cool school" had already found a wider public awareness, CBS Radio started a regular series of live recordings featuring foremost artists of the American jazz scene. Besides the customary presence of the great well-established big bands, these shows included performances of the emerging figures of the new leading currents in avant-garde jazz.

Today, they serve as a lively impression - as the booklet of the present album says - "of the intensity and craziness of the life of jazz musicians during those frenetic decades." As a recording of recordings, this compilation does not try to be more than an audible document of its time, (the booklet calls it "a snapshot of a group going about their daily work") but different from a commercially produced album, long prepared and worked out to perfection, coming as the musician's conscious statement about his art. It invites the listener to participate in the process of then-contemporary and still-evolving musical creation.

In not hiding its historic distance and age, it involves the listener in an intimate connection. The CD cover, with its stylized, old-fashioned yellow design and the simple, lithography-like silhouettes of Dave Brubeck's and Paul Desmond's portraits, alludes to its authenticity. Additionally, every single title of the compilation is introduced by the CBS radio announcer. The listener can hear the applause of the audience and a short interview with Brubeck.

The booklet bases the historic rarity and relevance of this compilation in the context of Brubeck's development, his major releases from the early years at West Coast universities, such as Berkeley, Oberlin College, and the College of the Pacific, to the first Columbia records , up to his appearance on the front page of Time magazine in 1954 as the second jazz-musician after Louis Armstrong.

It also covers his solo-album Brubeck Plays Brubeck and the seminal album of 1959: Time Out. It describes his complex relationship with his major artistic partner in the group, Paul Desmond (four years younger) with whom he had begun to play in 1947 and who died in 1977. Also included are notes on the three other musicians of the group, bassist Norman Bates and drummer Joe Dodge who later was replaced by Joe Morello.

As a historic document, the collection aims at highlighting a principal aspect of any jazz recording: no title would ever be performed in exactly the same way. In particular, in a well-settled musical interplay as lively as the Brubeck Quartet's - where improvisation and recurring themes and choruses are such instantly connected - every performance will stress its individual shades of the original title, enriched by a spontaneity in the dynamics between the band members, and their interaction with the audience. The booklet gives additional information about other performances of each tune, noting the albums in which they were included.

On the present CD, Only A Minor Thing has never been previously recorded by Brubeck. With only three minutes were left for the radio program, the listener can hear the radio speaker asking Brubeck which title he would suggest and Brubeck responds with The Trolley Song.

As mentioned, the booklet comprises an overview of Brubeck's and Desmond's career paths, and therefore, the purchaser is provided with a compelling insight into the different titles' evolutions and their positions in the complete repertory of Brubeck's recordings. Unfortunately, the track listing of the third and last appearance of The Duke to the Basin Street recordings, but also the radio announcement place it clearly in the Chicago recordings. Finally, it would also have been desirable to know the name of the booklet note's author that is not provided.

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Despite its complete summary on Brubeck's recording career and the different tracks, the booklet does not include track lengths. In general, it offers practically no word on musical aspects of the selected titles. For that reason, I would like to add some brief descriptions of the fifteen tracks.

Many titles reveal Brubeck's profound knowledge and basis in his classical education that, until 1942, were crowned by his studies with Darius Milhaud. As the booklet states, his personal style benefits but does not lead into an often-denounced "marriage between jazz and classics," but readily departs into something apart, a new and genuine (but certainly somewhat "white") jazz style that profits from its rich intellectual background and keen calculation.

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Paul Desmond's intimate, soft saxophone playing characterizes the whole album's color. However, Brubeck's solos, which generally tend to dominate the whole middle sections of almost every title, reveal the variety of the pianist's melodic and harmonic inventiveness, using his instrument somewhat as an orchestra of different voices, registers and most diverse characters. The Duke, Brubeck's own composition is featured three times without Desmond and without any major improvisations or changes and each time for about a minute in length. Only at the second time of the tune's appearance, the piano's very late entry with a solo sounds a bit confusing, as the listener would have expected a longer solo than the soon-ending performance.

Brubeck then immediately steps behind for Hoagy Carmichael's classic Stardust (7:06) that introduces Desmond's delicate alto sax with soon-coming accumulation of difficult but always most relaxed and "cool" ornamental figures. The fact that this music, despite its exciting spontaneity and sensual refinement, sounds so "intelligent" might simply come from the clarity of the lines that, almost like a Schenkerian middle ground graph, progress within the different patterns and short interruptions of both featured artists' solos. The drums remain limited on the common hi-hat swing rhythm of that time, only most rarely stepping out of these patterns. At 2:20, Brubeck replaces Desmond with a one-line that is broadened gradually in full and finally chorus-like chord structures. Desmond rejoins after almost four minutes (6:04), both then more or less freely responding on each other improvisation.

Gone With The Wind by Magidson/Wrubel (7:01) starts in a faster and more rhythmic tempo, Brubeck beginning the piece alone with a cadential intro, the others joining him with Joe Dodge once again, reducing his performance to only the hi-hat. Also, Desmond's solo includes more dynamic motion and variety of playing techniques, such as trills and garland-like melodic patterns. Brubeck's improvisation after 2:21 starts with a more accentuated, more rhythmical performance in the middle register and then, descending with long trilling figures, finally devolves into more and more ecstatic chord-structures. Another syncopated motif from the lower register, at 4:30, introduces a new musical idea. When, after another minute, he steps gradually into the background, the hi-hat becomes more prominent. Brubeck, continuing his solo, becomes a part of the rhythm group, while, at 6:05, Desmond returns with Brubeck's response behind. At 6:35, Brubeck rises to the front and leads into the final notes.

Like the previous title, Stompin' For Mili (5:19) is introduced by Brubeck alone and hors temps, after which the entire line-up enters accentuated by fast hi-hat beats. Sporadic snare-drum accents the performance of the generally discreet rhythm group. As if contemplating discovered findings, Desmond sometimes varies apparently accidental motifs and figures. With the applause at 2:46, Desmond retreats and Brubeck emerges to his solo out of a slowly accumulating rhythmic chord structure that would normally be typical for comping, mounting into the upper register and the theme at 3:42. After 4:02, he begins to interrupt his accentuated chords with silences, Dodge's hi-hat becoming more present with frequent cymbal accents. Desmonds returns after another forty seconds with repeated patterns, and the whole piece is finished with Brubeck and Desmond complementing each other's rhythmic accents.

Heyman/Green's tune Out Of Nowhere, after the usual Brubeck introduction and the rhythms, is presented by Desmond's very clear and simple-styled solo. It appears almost as distinguished as speech, and Brubeck does not add more than sporadic interruptions in the background. At 1:48, Brubeck appears in front together with the applause for Desmond, with a middle-register melody and chords in the left hand, the snare adding frequent off-beat accents and the piano rising to more and more ecstatic emotion, repeating the whole line in 4:15 until, at 4:24, the speaker interferes in expressing his apologies for the end of the show and the broadcasting fades out without being finished.

The following Brubeck tune, A Minor Thing (6:59), with its almost dreamy entry of Desmond's saxophone and medium-slow tempo, is only enriched by very few chords of the piano. The theme emerges slowly out of the improvisation, fades out and in, becomes a part of the whole, almost free performance. At 1:40, when Brubeck, as usually, enters with his middle-section solo, he performs a similar technique as in Stardust, with a one-line soprano part and a recurring descending fifth-progression with parallel thirds as a refrain.

Eventually, the strong connection between Brubeck's harmonic universe and his classical background, as though reminding of Debussy's Etude for the Thirds or even Rachmaninoff's piano compositions, with the virtuoso reaching-over of rocketing melodic garlands. As though playing another instrument, Brubeck introduces a bass ostinato solo at 3:57 and another higher melody that, as very commonly observable in the group's performances, enters at an unexpected time at 4:20. When, in 5:30, Dodge begins playing with his sticks, followed by the laughter of the audience, this unusual reduction comes as an announcement of Desmond's re-entry. As in other tunes, sax and piano now perform together, Brubeck's chord patterns recur into the refrain until, at 6:37 the last cadence is presented after which the radio speaker fills the remaining 22 seconds.

Brubeck's In Your Own Sweet Way (4:41), again introduced by the piano, immediately leads into the theme. Desmond appears at 1:07, very softly, Brubeck's ascending "rocket" motifs lead again in a quite full piano sound that devolves into more and more hierarchic chords and a way of suspended ecstasy. The entry of a new melodic idea at 3:57 quickly leads into the final cadences, and - without Desmond! Again, the listener can hear the radio announcer and Brubeck talk about the next title, the - necessarily short - Trolley Song (3:21) that is presented as a very simple and reduced theme by Desmond. With an accentuated down-beat of the drums and the piano, a fast tempo is pronounced in the cymbal after 0:52, but without the hi-hat. Another off-beat entry of a theme-derived melody at 1:32 leads into a riff-like motif in the piano chords (a i-III progression as an unfolding i7 chord). After three minutes, the radio speaker interrupts, fading out the recording.

George and Ira Gershwin's Love Walked In, the longest title in the compilation (7:49), begins with a relatively turbulent intro of the piano. At 0:16, Desmond gives a clear outline of the theme and then widens his improvisation. Very refined chromatic sequences respond to Brubeck's bass progressions and find a later response in an ascending chromatic motif. When Desmond disappears, this time without audible applause, Brubeck emerges with a very lively melodic solo. At 2:50, he begins focusing on one-note repetition and then leads in sequences and modulations in the alto register that, again, in their harmonic virtuosity and frequent German 65 chords, their parallel thirds, may remind of Debussy, terminated by a motif that sounds like a closing figure, although the performance goes on. Between 5:20 and 5:24, the hi-hat is left alone, and Brubeck develops this original technique of unexpectedly long interruption in the following sections, as, for example between 6:00 and 6:08 (eight bars). At 6:31, Desmond re-enters, as usually, joining Brubeck.

Rainger's Here Lies Love, a tune in minor mode, begins with a melancholic intro, and Desmond starts playing the tune at 0:17, accompanied by the dominance of fourths chords in the piano. At 0:36, Brubeck stays alone with the theme until, at 0:46, Desmond reemerges in the already described way. The descending melancholic sequences between 1:02 and 2:03 contain some almost Russian harmonic delicacy, in particular alluding to Rachmaninoff. The hi-hat gains more weight at 3:02 with sporadic off-beat accents of the snare-drum. It should be noted that Brubeck's eights in this tune are not swinged and, consequently, might refer to an almost classicist attitude, although the straightness of these melodic lines appears as a rhythmic counterpoint, almost as syncopation, in such a rhythmic environment. He steps into the background, reducing his performance on no more than chord accents as if from far distance. Desmond's very intimate solo between 5:08 and 6:02 emerges almost out of nothing. The group gets back to the theme at 6:40 in the same way like in the beginning, until the piece is finished, applauded and commented by the radio announcer.

The Hammerstein/Kern tune All The Things You Are in faster tempo is especially characterized by Brubeck's solo after 2:22 that develops a more and more frenetic motif in full piano sound and leads it into a chromatic bass sequence. At 4:06, the speaker interrupts the still continuing music, announcing a show of the next day.

Originating in the Chicago Blue Note recording, the Singler/Goodhart/Hoffman title I'm In A Dancing Mood (3:48) starts with a very classical intro characterized by descending parallel thirds as observed already in other tunes. At 1:04, Brubeck introduces a simple V-I pattern and gives rise to Desmond's solo that is interrupted by a melodic line and chromatic modulations in the piano only forty seconds later. At 1:56, Brubeck clearly marks a new tonic and a new, syncopated theme that responds on the drum's solo repetitions. Please note that this recording features the rhythmically more varied and more dynamic playing of Joe Morello as the group's new drummer who would join the quartet's usual line-up shortly after these recordings. The tune is finished at 3:04, after which the radio speaker adds a short comment ("Let me say hello to Dave…") and introduces the entire line-up.

The final title on the CD, The Song Is You by Kern/Hammerstein (3:19) is, most originally, introduced by the saxophone, then accompanied by the rest of the band, only the drum not starting before 0:15. Desmond plays a singularly high melodic entry at 1:56. After 2:05, the two featured artists only perform down-beat accents. Shortly after another solo of the saxophone, the title ends.

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