Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: On the Radio — Live 1956-57

Acrobat Music
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.5.09
Buy CD: On the Radio: Live 1956-57

This release from Acrobat Music's premier collection, which showcases famous jazz artists of the past, features never-released radio transcripts of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The recordings were made during broadcasts from New York City's Basin Street Jazz Club in 1956, and Chicago's Blue Note in 1957.

Brubeck was a relatively late arrival to the jazz scene. He managed to graduate from college without learning to read music; then, after several years in Europe with an Armed Services band in the early 1940s, he remained overseas to study with French classical composer Darius Milhaud.

This training, combined with the West Coast “cool jazz” sound he'd heard during his college years, resulted in the unique style that made him famous. His first recordings, on Atlantic Records, were with an octet that featured Cal Tjader and Ron Crotty; Brubeck and this duo also recorded two trio albums in 1949 and '50.

Brubeck also met alto saxman Paul Desmond while both were in the service. After the war concluded, they were together in a trio Desmond headed; the latter didn't become a regular with Brubeck's group until later.

Brubeck, Desmond, bassist Norman Bates and drummer Joe Dodge made up a quartet for several years, and that cadre is featured on the Basin Street Jazz Club '56 broadcast; the only personnel change for the '57 Blue Note club date was Joe Morello, who replaced Dodge on drums.

Dodge was an excellent — and steady — percussionist, but Morello was far more innovative. The stylistic change that occurred with his arrival was significant, and is evident in the tracks presented on this album. That said, both groups were unique; their cover of “Stardust” (for example) was unlike anything done by any other band.

Desmond set the primary tone for the quartet. His soft, clean, almost vibratoless style made that band; no other alto player sounded like him. This release includes most of the tunes that appeared in the many albums this quartet recorded over the years, but — big “but” — because they never played 'em the same way twice, this listening experience is well worth your time.

The album's only weakness is the audio quality, but considering the fact that these are radio transcripts, that's to be expected. The announcer's introductions and comments bring back memories of jazz's importance during that time period; only the commercials have been eliminated.

Acrobat is to be congratulated — and supported — for this series.

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