Friday, February 7, 2020

The L.A. Network Plays Dave Brubeck

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

What follows is a writing that was commissioned to serve as an annotation for the Dave Brubeck Redux Project by Fidelio Technologies, which produces high-end audio reel-to-reel tapes plus high resolution digital transfers. You can visit their catalogue at

As I listened while I wrote, I was very impressed with the mature conception and masterful execution that these young musicians brought to Dave’s music.

It’s nice to hear the current generation of Jazz artists pay tribute to those that helped establish the Jazz tradition during the first century of its existence. 

Brubeck’s music is complicated and difficult to interpret.

I think he would be pleased with the results which you can also sample via the Soundcloud audio file at the end of this piece.

“Dave Brubeck’s tunes and songs dotted the American musical landscape during the second half century of the 20th century and beyond. Brubeck [1920-2012] is perhaps best known as the leader of a “classic” Jazz quartet that performed in venues all over the world from 1956 -1968 and featured the talents of Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums.

Brubeck developed a unique, powerful style as a pianist with elements of rhythmic displacement and the use of sophisticated harmonies that were adopted by some of his contemporaries such as Bill Evans and Cecil Taylor, but perhaps his most lasting contribution to the genre of Jazz were his compositions.

Over his seventy year career, Brubeck wrote such a wide variety of music that it is impossible to categorize it, but two forms of his compositions have been widely adopted by subsequent generations of Jazz musicians: his ballads [slow, sentimental sounding music] and his tunes based on unusual time signatures [odd meters 5/4, 7/4, 9/8, etc.].

Both forms are reflected on these Brubeck Recordings as performed by pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Alex Frank, and drummer Ryan Shaw which are produced and recorded by George Klabin, live, on 2-track at 15 ips stereo.

Along with Desmond, his long-time associate, Dave’s move to Columbia Records in 1954 was largely responsible for his growing national fame and the ballad In Your Own Sweet Way and the medium tempo The Duke are among his earliest, original compositions recorded by the label. In Your Own Sweet Way has achieved the status of a Jazz Standard with well over seventy versions having been recorded by major artists, among them, Miles Davis.

Aided by promotional campaigns from Columbia, a recording powerhouse at the time, Brubeck’s classic quartet developed into a hot attraction on college campuses and the newly burgeoning Jazz Festivals including those in Newport, RI and Monterey, CA.

Brubeck’s breakthrough LP for Columbia - Time Out - was recorded in 1959 and contained three of the seven tunes heard on these recordings: Take Five, Blue Rondo A La Turk and Strange Meadow Lark.

As Dave wrote in the liner notes to the CD reissue of Time Out: “Creating a ‘hit’ out of Take Five and the other odd-meter experiments on the album was the farthest thing from our minds when Paul, Gene, Joe and I went into the recording studio.”

The remaining two tunes - It’s A Raggy Waltz and Blue Shadows in the Street - are represented on the 1961 sequel Time Further Out.

When these odd metered tunes first appeared on the Jazz scene from 1959-61, they were a sensation because of their “unusualness; they also became a bit of a nuisance as few Jazz musicians could play them.

Sixty years later, a measure of the collective musical skills and abilities of Josh, Alex and Ryan is that not only are they able to play these unusual time signature tunes, but that they play them so effortlessly and so well.

The opening track, It’s a Raggy Waltz, which is neither a “rag” nor a typical “waltz,” gets its name from the jagged rhythmic variations and accents stated in a 12-bar blues form with an added 8 bar bridge. Josh, Alex and Ryan are so comfortable on this challenging tune that they play around with it and add flourishes and touches that make it even more, well, ragged!

The original Take Five became a feature for one of Joe Morello’s trademark extended solos. Drums are also prominent on this version with Josh exhibiting a knuckle-busting solo very reminiscent of Dave’s percussive style which he then incorporates into a series of 4-bar, 2-bar and 1-bar trades with Ryan. The drum solo aspect is retained, but it becomes an interactive one.

From the powerful to the pensive, In Your Own Sweet Way is universally recognized as one of the most beautiful Jazz ballads ever-written. The trio’s sparkling version conjures up visions of Dave looking back at the glittering lights of San Francisco from his home across the bay in the Oakland Hills when he recorded the solo piano version of the tune in 1956 from a piano in his living room one evening using an Ampex portable tape recorder.

More pulsating piano a la Brubeck is on display in Josh’s treatment of The Duke with its rolicking medium tempo which he further rocks with some of Red Garland’s famous block chords before turning things over to 4 bar trades between Alex and Ryan. Dave composed this tune as a happy homage to Duke Ellington, whom he idolized, and the trio’s bouncy version of it will no doubt put a smile on your face.

With its 9/8 time signature grouped into an unusual 2-2-2-3 form, Blues Rondo A La Turk was the most remote of the early, odd meter experiments by Brubeck’s quartet. In stating the theme, Josh puts more bombastic Brubeckian phrasing on display before transitioning into stride piano interludes and then breaking out into a blues-inflected, straight-ahead solo in 4/4 time.

Written in a lyrical ballad style reminiscent of In Your Own Sweet Way, Josh’s pianism gives Strange Meadow Lark a sparkling, fresh interpretation that really brings out the beauty of this simple, intriguing melody.

Blue Shadows in the Street is the least well-known of this grouping of Brubeck’s tunes. Dave once described it as a “... mood piece which disguises its rhythm and blues derivation by the use of odd melodic skips and dissonances and shifting rhythmic accents within a repeated triplet figure.” Josh, Alex and Ryan only heighten the tune’s mysterious qualities with their interpretation of the piece to the point where one wonders what really is lurking in those blue shadows?

All of this music is wrapped in an audio quality that is marked by a purity of sound and a naturalness, instead of one that is artificial or fabricated.

The balance and the separation induces a sense of space and creates the effect of putting-you-in-the-room sound.

It is a quality of sound that is deep, full and reverberating. 

Perhaps, this audio sound mastery is the reason why George Klabin’s label is named - Resonance Records.”

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