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Music Review: Dave Brubeck – The Definitive Dave Brubeck

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Dave Brubeck will turn 90 on December 6th and while he has slowed down a bit, he shows no signs of retiring. His career extends back to his time in the service during World War II, where he first met long-term sidekick and jazz virtuoso in his own right, Paul Desmond. By 1951 he had formed his first quartet. Three years later he was on the cover of Time Magazine.

During the early sixties he was releasing an average of four albums per year. By my count, he had now issued in the neighborhood of 110 albums during his lifetime so far, and that is not counting compilation releases. He received a Lifetime Grammy Award in 1996 and was a 2009 Kennedy Center Honoree. His 1959 album, Time Out, remains the biggest selling jazz album of all time.

The Definitive Dave Brubeck is the latest entry in the Concord Music Group reissue series. It gathers material from his early years on the Fantasy label and then his post-seventies material which was recorded for the Concord Jazz and Telarc labels. What is skipped was his time with Columbia, which represented his most creative and commercially successful period.

The enclosed booklet is excellent. The liner notes were based on an interview by Russell Gloyd, Brubeck’s manager, producer, and conductor for 30 years, as given to music historian Ashley Khan. The pictures are plentiful and the notes concerning each track are complete.

This release is divided into two distinct parts, with each occupying one of the two discs in the set.

Disc One chronicles Brubeck’s early years with the Fantasy label and presents him in his developmental stage. He plays in various configurations with the likes of Paul Desmond, Cal Tjader, and Ron Crotty.

The oldest track is a solo performance from 1942. While “I Found A New Baby” is short, it is a nice introduction to the album and the man’s piano skill. The music then jumps to the early fifties with his emphasis on interpreting traditional standards of the day. “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Singin’ In The Rain,” “That Old Black Magic,” “How High The Moon,” and “Over The Rainbow” are all nice vehicles for his jazz experiments.

Disc Two picks up almost thirty years after the first one ends. His work released by Concord finds his sound fully developed. Versions of “St. Louis Blues” and “Take Five” were recorded live in Moscow and show how he had updated those classics. During his time with Telarc he played a number of pieces solo. One of the best is his seven-and-a-half minute version of “(Variations On) Brother, Can You Spare A Dime.” Many of his own compositions are also present, such as “Waltzing,” “Day After Day,” “Here Comes McBride,” and “Forty Days.”

Many times, the focus on the music of Dave Brubeck’s career centers on his time with the Columbia label and with good reason. He did create a lot of good music on both sides of his Columbia years, however, and The Definitive Dave Brubek brings some of those tunes before the public eye again.

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