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"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
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Friday, February 11, 2011

Dave Brubeck: The Definitive Dave Brubeck on Fantasy, Concord Jazz, and Telarc

The definitive recording of Dave Brubeck's entire career, people should know, are not on this new collection.  The sides for which the pianist is most well-known (indeed, the tracks that make up 95% of his reputation as one of the most accessible and, kinda, weird jazz musicians) were on Columbia, and they're not here.

Rather, this collection brings together the man's early recordings and then his late recordings: everything of note that is not on Columbia.  Thus, it is a kind of "best of" supplement, something for Brubeck completists to grab and mull over.

And it is fascinating.  The early Brubeck is curious and various.  There is the young man studying with Darius Milhaud who turns a standard ("The Way You Look Tonight") into an academic, mannered exercise.  There is also the trendy leader of a trio who chases down the interest in Latin jazz by letting drummer Cal Tjader go crazy on bongos and, eventually, on vibes.  Eventually we hear this guy encounter an alto saxophonist named Paul Desmond, and their immediate rapport creates the sound of the classic Brubeck Quartet.  The first sparks of this, including some freshly improvised classical-ish counterpoint, is a marvel to hear.

The late Brubeck is less bombastic, avoiding the crashing block chord solos that make the classic quartet so thrilling and, often, unswinging.  But these groups rarely seem as balanced, as Brubeck hunts around for a reed player as fulfilling as Desmond.  There are some lovely recordings here, however, and none more lovely that a version of "Forty Days" from 2004 that reminds us that Brubeck was always a great jazz composer even if he wasn't the most nuanced player.

If you grew up loving Dave Brubeck but have never hunted down his more obscure stuff, this could be for you.  For others, the Columbia recordings remain where it's at.

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