Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #661:
The Dave Brubeck Quartet – The Last Time We Saw Paris
This is the last live recording the classic original group made, with Paul Desmond on alto, Gene Wright on bass and the late, great Joe Morello on drums, so, Joe, wherever you are, this one’s for you. What an amazing, and surprising, and unexpectedly wild improvisational album: as much as Brubeck’s greatest strength has been as a composer, what they do with a bunch of generically pretty standards here is a clinic in the kind of fun you can have deconstructing and then reconstructing a tune. Brubeck may have wanted to stay home and compose and spend more time with the wife and kids at this point in his career, but if this 1967 tour was anything like what’s on this album, the group definitely went out on a high note. They rip through These Foolish Things; the bossa-tinged Forty Days alternates between austerity and unselfconscious beauty. One Moment Worth Years is the most judiciously expansive number here; they elevate La Paloma Azul far above its generic Mexican folk-pop origins, follow it with maybe the best-ever version of the absurdly memorable Three to Get Ready and close the set with a barely recognizable, all-stops-out version of Gone with the Wind. Long out of print and never officially issued digitally,you’ll either have to spend some time going through the jazz bins at your local used vinyl place (that’s what we did) or try your luck with deeply buried google pages. We’ll have more downloads for you tomorrow – sorry!
Lately Sony Jazz has been emptying out the CTI vaults they inherited: it’s amazing how much good jazz is in there, and how well it’s aged. Conventional wisdom is that Creed Taylor’s California label was primarily a source for fusion, and there’s some truth to that, but not completely. Three delicious new reissues attest to that. First and foremost is Paul Desmond’s exquisite Pure Desmond: it’s such a good album that it would be a contender for the year’s top ten pretty much anytime in the last couple of decades. Desmond was rarely comfortable in the role of bandleader for many reasons, but he seems so on this 1974 gem, and even though it’s a mix of standards by Duke, Jerome Kern, Django and Cole Porter, the group here reinvents them. Desmond never overpowered anybody with his martini tone, and here he gets the chance to let it breathe over some of the smartest jazz rhythm guitar ever recorded, courtesy of the vastly underrated Ed Bickert. Meanwhile, Connie Kay plays an almost invisible beat with brushes, Ron Carter alongside on bass. Lyrical and unselfconsciously poignant, it’s truly Pure Desmond, very close, both tune and vibe-wise to his 1954 quintet session featuring another brilliant guitarist, Barney Kessel.
Another welcome rediscovery is vibraphonist Milt Jackson’s lush, psychedelic 1972 Sunflower album with Herbie Hancock on piano, Carter on bass, Billy Cobham on drums, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Jay Berliner on acoustic guitar plus a string orchestra. It’s got the flamenco noir sweep of Jackson’s For Someone I Love, a vividly cosmopolitan version of Michel Legrand’s What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life, an understatedly funky, cinematic take of the Stylistics’ People Make the World Go Round plus the absolutely hypnotic title track, a Freddie Hubbard composition, its dreamlike pulse augmented by the strings. Gorgeously otherworldly, it deserves to be better known than it is.
Last but not least, Ron Carter’s All Blues – taking its title from a judicious, practically ten minute version of the Miles classic – is a refreshingly terse session featuring Joe Henderson on tenor, Sir Roland Hanna on piano and Billy Cobham swinging like crazy behind the kit. It sounds little like the kind of stuff Cobham would be playing later in the decade, and much the same applies to Carter: it’s all judicious funk and melody, no rat-on-a-treadmill walking scales. This title in particular stands out for how intelligently it’s been remastered (although that could be said of all of them): the bass, already amplified courtesy of a Fender amp, gets a welcome boost, although the drums remain comfortably back in the mix just as they were on the original vinyl. Highlights include the beautifully modal piano/bass ballad Light Blue, the gentle funk theme 117 Special – a classic showcase for understated Henderson soulfulness – and the playfully tricky Rufus, a shout-out to Rufus Reid.
Also available in the reissue series is George Benson’s White Rabbit – and for fans of long-forgotten synthesizer film scores from the 1970s, Eumir Deodato’s Prelude. All links here are to itunes, although cds are available as well.
Today Dave Brubeck turns ninety, and jazz fans everywhere are celebrating. And so is his record label. Along with the new Legacy of a Legend compilation just released today (which we haven’t heard yet, at least in this particular configuration – Brubeck handpicked the tracks to coincide with the new Clint Eastwood-produced documentary Dave Brubeck: Legacy of a Legend), Sony has released two new box sets containing five albums each from his classic period in the 1950s, many with his quartet featuring Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright and Joe Morello. The first set collects the “Time” albums: Time Out, Time Further Out, Time Changes, Time In and Countdown: Time in Outer Space. The second is more eclectic: the solo Brubeck Plays Brubeck; the lush, richly orchestrated, vastly underrated Brandenburg Gate Revisited; the irresistibly romantic Jazz Impressions of New York; the live set Jazz Goes to College, and the covers album Gone With the Wind.
They’re also all downloadable from the usual places. But for the fan who who’s not willing to settle for an mp3, who insists on getting the bonus tracks (among them an irresistible It’s a Raggy Waltz from a period Carnegie Hall concert on Time Further Out, and a couple of surprising outtakes on Time In), what are the options? At this point in time, vinyl copies of the more obscure of these albums are hard, sometimes impossible to find, and sell for collector prices. The obvious questions is, are these box sets worth it?
Surprisingly, yes. Take Brubeck Goes to College, for example. The 1954 album was recorded in mono, with the audience mixed higher than would have been usual, one suspects, because it was being marketed as a party record to what was felt to be an unsophisticated college crowd. This digital version is a vast improvement, benefiting not only from an overall reduction in extraneous noise but also a welcome bass boost. Then there’s Brandenburg Gate Revisited. One of Brubeck’s early third-stream albums, a majestically symphonic reworking of several of his most popular themes, it wasn’t well-received at the time, didn’t sell well and was out of print for a long time, making what vinyl that remains ridiculously pricy. A side-by-side comparison reveals the new remastering job to be a resounding success: it has the seamlessness of a vinyl record. The rest of the digital versions hold their own as well. And you have to salute the idea of marketing all the Time albums together: it’s a time warp more than anything else, a journey that might be sentimental to some and great fun for those who revel in the music of the Mad Men era but weren’t there to enjoy it the first time around.