The Dave Brubeck Quartet | Time Out (December 1959)
Cool Jazz – 38:21
“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”
Everyone has a dream, an ambition they are striving towards; that goal in life that we wish to achieve above all other things. Some of these dreams seem more achievable than others: to raise a good family or keep a steady job; others are more fanciful: to walk on the moon or to win an Oscar. But regardless of where these ambitions lie on the spectrum, most of all we want to be remembered. Whether our achievements are known by a few, who see us in our everyday life, or by countless thousands, the ultimate desire is to have others approve of how we have done; to say ‘I’d like to be able to do that one day too’. Which is perhaps why we so often get jealous of those we hold dearest; as the Mancunian poser Morrissey once sang: “We hate it when our friends become successful.” And don’t even get him started on how he feels if they happen to be Northeners…
So spare a thought for poor Dave Brubeck. He was one of the most respected composers of the 20th century; considered by some aficionados as one of the leading lights in the genre of cool jazz. He wrote numerous compositions, many of which have become jazz standards. His group’s album Time Out is one of the biggest selling jazz albums of all time – indeed, it has proved so popular, that it was the first jazz album to ever be certified platinum. And yet the one thing for which the Dave Brubeck Quartet will be eternally remembered – the very group which he led and gave his name to – wasn’t even written by him. It was written by his best friend, Paul Desmond. To his credit, Brubeck didn’t even bat an eyelid, particularly given the pair’s less-than-auspicious beginnings.
Desmond and Brubeck had first encountered each other during the Second World War, when the future bandleader auditioned for the 253rd Army band, which Desmond already belonged to. Following the war, the two worked together again but Desmond eventually cut Brubeck’s pay before replacing him. A disgruntled Brubeck headed back to California, where his trio gradually began to receive acclaim. Hearing the three playing on the radio, Paul made his way west to convince his former bandmate to take him on. Brubeck at this stage had not forgiven Desmond, and told his wife Iola not to let him into the house. It was only when Desmond corned Brubeck and agreed to babysit his children if he could play with the trio that the friendship truly began. By the time of Desmond’s death in 1977, the pair had become so close that Brubeck’s son Darius believed that the sax player was really his uncle. So it comes as little surprise that, when Desmond’s composition Take Five proved to be the group’s biggest commercial hit, Brubeck was more than happy for it to take the accolades.
Listening to Time Out, however, there is clearly much more depth to this album than this one song would suggest. While I’m more than familiar with the quartet’s most famous number, I was still cautious about what I would find on the album. It wasn’t just my reticence of listening to another jazz album; Brubeck was famous for his experimentation and the title of the work, Time Out, is the key to the entire album – none of the compositions are written in conventional 4/4 (or even 3/4) time. Instead he drew on a range of time signatures, including 9/8 and 5/4, to create a different sound. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get, but feared that the music I’d struggled to understand from other greats would now overwhelm me. How wrong I was. This is comfortably one of the easiest records that I have ever had the pleasure to hear.
Brubeck’s exquisite playing opens the album on Blue Rondo a la Turk, setting a pace that races along, before the sounds of Desmond’s alto sax begins to take up the melody over the top. Brubeck got the idea for the number after hearing Turkish musicians performing and, picking up the sound of the rhythms, chose to copy it. As the piece slows down in the middle, there is a real sense of being at the heart of easy listening territory; I mean this in no bad way as the record draws you in and allows you to wallow in the wonderful sounds of the instruments. Things slow down even more for the beautiful Strange Meadow Lark, with the incredible piano playing of Brubeck at the forefront creating a dreamy sound of warm summer evenings, before we get to that track. Time has done nothing to diminish its sheer brilliance, with Desmond proving to be every bit as talented as the group’s leader when it comes to composition. While it is hard not to picture some 1980s style advert playing beneath it, this is still one of the all-time great jazz numbers. No wonder Brubeck had no problem with his group being remembered for it.
The flipside of the album (back in the day of vinyl recordings) is just as strong as the first. Three to Get Ready may be a gentler number after the joy of Take Five, but it is a much needed break that manages to flow with the rest of the album. By the time you reach Everybody’s Jumpin’, the momentum has picked up, creating a track that manages to rock while retaining the laidback feel of the rest of the album. Things finish with Pick Up Sticks, perhaps the weakest number on the album, but by this point you have been drawn into the quartet’s wonderful world. This is a warm album that could complement any evening; sit back in your comfiest armchair, pour yourself a glass of something nice and let the master’s music wash over you.
If you have a Spotify account, you can listen to Time Out here:
Next time: A Look Back at 1955 to 1959 in Music