Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Laid Off Loser Album of the Day: "Time Out"

The Dave Brubeck Quartet

A finger-snapping, toe-tapping classic, Time Out is jazz as sunshine and spring air, the most likable serious-jazz album this side of Kind of Blue.

An album of many feats — the pop radio hit "Take Five" was the first jazz instrumental single to sell a million copies — Time Out's greatest triumph is its palatability. From a technical perspective, this is difficult music — the title nods to Brubeck's break from the traditional 4/4 jazz time signature — yet it never sounds difficult like so many experiments in compositional form do.

Maybe that's why "Take Five," recorded in 5/4 and 3/4 waltz time, was such a hit — perhaps the ears of casual listeners were ready for something new and fresh, even if they didn't understand (or care about) the mechanics behind it. And really, unless you're a jazz nerd, the technical mumbo-jumbo is secondary to the deep, intrinsic appeal of Brubeck's noir-cool piano rhythm, Joe Morello's crisp, cymbal-heavy beat and Paul Desmond's fluid, understated tenor sax phrasing.

Lively opener "Blue Rondo A La Turk," meanwhile, begins in 9/8 time. Mechanically, it works a traditional Turkish rhythm. Compositionally, it's based on a Mozart piece. Heady stuff indeed, yet it's second only to "Take Five" in fame and likability. The rest of the album follows suit — seriously swinging in the absence of simplicity.

This 50th anniversary edition includes a DVD interview with Brubeck on the making of Time Out and a bonus disc of unreleased live cuts from the Newport Jazz Festival recorded in the early '60s. Though two of the recordings are pieces from Time Out (fast-paced, exploratory versions of "Blue Rondo A La Turk" and "Take Five"), the majority of the cuts are bluesy, boogie-woogie hard bop in the vein of the 1963 Dave Brubeck Quartet album At Carnegie Hall.

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