Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dave Brubeck: 50 Years of Dave Brubeck

Monterey Jazz Festival Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.8.09
Buy CD: 50 Years of Dave Brubeck

This album, featuring pianist Dave Brubeck, is one of many being released by Monterey Jazz Festival Records, to celebrate that West Coast tradition's 50th anniversary.

Brubeck's group was featured at the first Monterey Jazz Festival concert in 1958; in fact, he also performed in Monterey before the initial concert. Jimmy Lyons, founder of the festival, had a meeting scheduled with the city council, to persuade them to sponsor the event; he arranged to have Brubeck's quartet audition. (Many council members weren't familiar with jazz.)

The rest is history, and Brubeck played at numerous Monterey Jazz Fests during the next 50 years.

The 10 tracks on this release draw from the initial 1958 event and continue through the '07 concert. Six versions of Brubeck's band perform. The initial quartet featured Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums. In 1962, Gerry Mulligan's baritone sax replaced Desmond's alto, and Jack Six and Alan Dawson were the bassist and drummer.

By 1985, the group had grown to a quintet, with clarinetist Bill Smith, flutist Bobby Militello, drummer Randy Jones and Dave's son Chris on bass. The quartet reappeared in '02; Bobby Militello switched to alto sax, and Christian McBride was the bassist. The only change made for the '06 and '07 concerts was bassist Michael Moore.

But no matter who played, the results were stellar.

I've always thought Desmond was a primo alto saxist; his tone was mellow — he used very little vibrato — and his phrasing was exquisite. He also composed “Take 5,” Brubeck's hallmark tune, which was done in 5/4 time.

The years that featured Mulligan on baritone sax were some of Brubeck's finest; one of those tracks (“Goodbye Old Friend”) was written by Brubeck after Mulligan's death. The old tunes “Margie” and “Sleep,” both seldom performed, are album highlights here.

This release's only shortcoming is a recording flaw; one must crank up the volume to hear the piano solos in the '58 concert.

That aside, this is a wonderful album. Brubeck was — and, thank goodness, remains — way ahead of his time.

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