The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out - Review
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critics' view

As the authors of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (Penguin, 1992-2008) observed, pianist Dave Brubeck's Time Out has become so familiar that "no one actually hears what's going on anymore." The album is one of two masterpieces made in 1959 sharing that fate. The other is trumpeter Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia). But Brubeck's album has suffered the most. Davis' studied cultivation of his image, along with such spurious qualifications for hipsterdom as his bouts of heroin and cocaine addiction, mean that Kind of Blue's magic still shines through the cloak of over-familiarity. Time Out, on the other hand, was made by a quartet which included three nerdy looking white guys in college professor spectacles. Plus it spawned an international hit single in "Take Five"/"Blue Rondo A La Turk." With all that going against it, you had—and, perhaps, still have—to be truly hip to recognize the album's perfection.

Despite its eventual commercial success, Time Out was slow off the blocks. Columbia executives thought Brubeck's exploration of unusual time signatures (5/4, 9/8, 6/4, 3/4) would baffle the public and they did little to promote the disc. But the public proved to be thoroughly unbaffled and sales multiplied through word of mouth, fired by the quartet's relentless touring. Finally, a year after Time Out's release, the "Take Five" single was put out and history made. Columbia then got the group back in the studio in short order to record a follow-up, Time Further Out (1961), another fine album which included the hit "It's a Raggy Waltz."

Take Five includes one of the most thrilling drum solos ever recorded, a 2:20 master class in percussive accentuation, colorization and structure. Unlike the rest of Time Out, which was composed by Brubeck, the tune was written by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. "It was never supposed to be a hit," Desmond said later. "It was supposed to be a Joe Morello drum solo." Morello had joined the quartet in 1956 over Desmond's initial objection: the saxophonist was concerned that Morello's muscular style would jar with his own lyrical approach. Desmond was won over, and when the composer royalties for "Take Five" started pouring in, he must have been relieved Brubeck had stood his ground and insisted on hiring Morello.

There is much, much more to love about Time Out, most particularly Desmond's deceptively fragile alto and Brubeck's unique blend of blues tonalities, two-fisted block chording, and advanced, European-derived harmonization. And a bunch of great tunes including "Take Five," "Blue Rondo A La Turk," "Strange Meadow Lark," "Three to Get Ready" and "Kathy's Waltz," named after Brubeck's daughter, Cathy, but misspelled by the sleeve's typographer.

If Time Out has become a little inaudible in your life, it is time to play it again and marvel.

Chris May
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Reporting on jazz from around the globe since 1995.
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