DAVE BRUBECK — Dave Brubeck's Greatest Hits

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DAVE BRUBECK - Dave Brubeck's Greatest Hits cover
4.46 | 4 ratings | 1 review
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Boxset / Compilation · 1966

Filed under Cool Jazz


1. Take Five (5:27)
2. I'm In a Dancing Mood (3:02)
3. In Your Own Sweet Way (5:00)
4. Camptown Races (1:59)
5. The Duke (6:32)
6. It's a Raggy Waltz (5:14)
7. Bossa Nova U. S. A. (2:26)
8. Trolley Song (3:05)
9. Unsquare Dance (2:03)
10. Blue Rondo a la Turk (6:46)
11. Theme from "Mr. Broadway" (2:27)

Total Time: 44:06


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It goes against almost every record reviewer’s golden rules of conduct I know of to give a “Greatest Hits” collection such a high rating but when it comes to this incredible pioneer I’d be doing him and his fellow explorer bandmates a foul disservice if I awarded it a ranking any lower. It was Dave Brubeck’s innovative work throughout the mid to late 50s in particular, the decade of my wide-eyed adolescence, that served as my introduction to authentic jazz music. Not that I heard all that much of it in my household, but his compositions, advanced as they may have been for that era, were so popular and readily accepted by the general public that I would have had to live in a vacuum to not be indirectly exposed to his songs through one media or another. Even in my barely-aware formative years I recognized in his music an alternative to the pedestrian pop and tired C&W fare I was constantly being inundated with around the home front and I was intrigued, to say the least. “What is this odd stuff?” I asked myself. I learned there was a form of music on the planet that made people think and that realization inspired me to not put up barriers restricting what I would entertain in my ear canals. For that alone I’m forever thankful to Dave and his cohorts for broadening my horizons so early on in my life and this is a superb, selective gathering of tunes that represents well the genius of their inimitable craftsmanship.

There’s no more fitting or impressive way to start than with their signature number, “Take Five.” This classic song written in 5/4 by Paul Desmond defines the word “cool.” Desmond’s breathy saxophone is so soothing it’s the ultimate antidote for stress and Joe Morello’s perfection-in-motion drum solo set the bar higher than it had ever been placed before by his clever mating of proper technique with an ultra-perceptive sensitivity to his surroundings. The whole track is immaculate. They didn’t write “I’m In a Dancing Mood,” but they certainly made it their own. It shows Brubeck’s delicate touch on the piano keys in the opening segment, then it suddenly escalates into a fast Latin beat so smoothly they make it sound easy (it’s not). Cruising effortlessly through various tempo changes, it deftly utilizes the talents of every member of the quartet to the maximum. Dave’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” is a beautiful piano piece that emphasizes his awesome improvisation skills as his spontaneous creativity flows and flows. This is how most keyboardists would love to be able to play the black & whites. The tune became a jazz standard covered by the likes of Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery.

Next in line is the group’s incredibly energetic arrangement of the Stephen Foster relic of Americana, “Camptown Races,” wherein Brubeck and Desmond transform the familiar melody into something magical. It eventually became a TV staple, serving as a soundtrack for horse racing telecasts on CBS. The rendition included here of Dave’s excellent “The Duke” was recorded in concert at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and their on-stage performance is so pure as to render it indistinguishable from their studio offerings, highlighting their amazing consistency and unimpeachable professionalism. The band’s tightness is beyond description as Brubeck fully captured in this number the essence of Ellington’s melodic and rhythmic characteristics. Dave’s “It’s a Raggy Waltz” is a delightful manipulation of time signatures that never gets so complex that it loses its simple charm. As he described it once, “it’s neither rag nor typical waltz… A shifting of accents within its ¾ measures gives it a syncopated quality reminiscent of the old-time rag, in which composers and performers would group notes within a four-beat measure to give the impression of triple meter.” Got it? Doesn’t matter. Just sit back and enjoy. Morello’s obvious comfort in working inside this type of jazz floors me with every listen.

On Brubeck’s “Bossa Nova U.S.A.” you get a rare opportunity to hear what a genuine Bossa Nova beat sounds like and, believe me, it’s hot. Dave referred to it as “somewhat samba with a west coast drawl.” Whatever it is, it’ll carry you away. I only hope that somebody out there in jazz land is carrying on the elegant legacy these musicians seeded and nurtured for future generations. What they did with the Broadway show tune “Trolley Song” is a fine example of taking an average stone and turning it into a shiny diamond, in this case by attaching a South American air to it. Here you can sense how attuned to each other they were because every note and beat is united in congealed harmony. Brubeck called his “Unsquare Dance” song a “lesson in concentration” but its unorthodox use of hand claps for percussion made it a natural for modern dance troupes to tackle. The track demonstrates the freedom he allowed his imagination to have in employing whatever was needed to fashion a unique expression of his art. His scintillating “Blue Rondo a la Turk” follows and, in my book, it was second only to “Take Five” in making the world stand up and take serious notice of what he was doing. Everything about it is sublime and I adore the group’s silky transitions from the tricky 9/8 theme to the lazy shuffle where Paul and Dave take turns creating euphoric moments on sax and piano. This is what I think of when I’m asked “What is jazz?” The music says so much more than my puny words could ever convey. The disc ends with Brubeck’s “Theme from ‘Mr. Broadway’,” an energized polyrhythmic song that purrs and hums like a sleek sports car on an empty highway threading through lush, green countryside. Or, as Dave explained, it has “an inner pull which creates conflict and dramatic excitement on a sophisticated level.” I like my description better but trust me, it’s all good.

If you’re new to jazz but aren’t keen on the raucousness of fusion yet yearn for something a lot more challenging than contemporary AOR fare then I couldn’t recommend this album more. It’s a gateway leading into a wonderful wing of the jazz building that you’ll find both engaging and rewarding. If you’ve heard of Dave Brubeck but have never experienced anything but short snippets of “Take Five” then this will be a wise investment of your time and spare change. The man and the musicians he surrounded himself with never settled for anything less than the best they could summon from their souls. If you get off on jazz composed and played on a level that titillates your intellect while making you tap your foot at the same time then I hope you won’t hesitate to indulge in the marvelous world of Dave Brubeck. This package is a terrific place to start.

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