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Music Review: The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out [SACD]

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Time Out is not only Dave Brubeck’s signature recording, it is also his first (and best) foray into an exploration of time signatures themselves. By its very nature, the idiom of jazz has ventured into all sorts of experiments with time. The list of jazz artists who have contributed to rethinking the basic 4/4 beat would fill an encyclopedia. To get right down to it, Brubeck had played around a bit prior to the 1959 release of Time Out. But nobody (including himself) has done it with quite the style and grace of The Dave Brubeck Quartet on this album.

“Album” is of course a misnomer in a review of this release, for it is a SACD that we are discussing. The proper term is Super Audio Compact Disc. The Analogue Productions Company has just issued Time Out in the SACD format, and it is intended for fans who wish to hear the seven songs which make up the recording in as pristine a manner as possible.

Believe it or not, the compact disc has been a part of the music landscape for roughly 30 years now. It did not seriously take off until the late ‘80s though. For anyone who remembers, it was sold as a music delivery system which was (they said) “permanent.” There is no arguing the fact that CDs are less fragile than vinyl LPs, but everyone reading this knows that CDs are easily damaged. For those of us who took care of our records though, I would argue that there is not that much of a difference between the two formats in terms of “damage control.” If you beat the crap out of your records, and beat the crap out of your compact discs, the end result is the same.

What was never brought to our attention was just how much sound we lost with the change from analog to digital. Actually, that was a fraction of what we lost. There was a gold rush to release every classic rock artist on CD, because the CD debut of artists like The Beatles went through the roof. What we discovered later was that the labels were often using third or fourth generation tapes as their source material. Add to this the fact that the digital nature of compact discs eliminates up to 80% of the tonal nuances in the recording, and one can understand why people call vinyl “warmer.”

Well, of course it is. It contains tones that do not translate into the binary code of ones and twos. And this is what the SACD format does its best to address. I imagine that the technology (like all technology) will continue to improve, but Analogue Productions is certainly on the cutting edge of bringing the fullest, warmest sound to recordings such as Dave Brubeck’s Time Out to you in the digital format.

Here is the comparison I would make. Imagine your grandmother bought one of the first pressings of this album back in 1959, and never played it. It was on very thick wax, and came straight from the lathe. You discover this hidden treasure and play it on your state of the art turntable today—and feel as if you were in the studio with The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1959. What could possibly sound closer to the source?

Probably nothing, to be honest. But this SACD edition gets as close to that ideal as possible. I have been reluctant to buy into the audiophile world for a long time, but since the only way of hearing things the way I want to hear them is to go the extra mile, I am making the attempt. Even with the inherent limitations of digital versus analog, on a 5.1 surround system, the Analogue Productions version of Time Out sounds amazing.

I own five versions of Time Out—two LPs and three CDs. The three CDs are the initial (terrible) version, a vastly improved one from 2010, and this new SACD. Of these, the new SACD is the one to own. I will refrain from a full explanation of the work Analogue Productions has done to bring us this close to the source material, but it is in the notes.

What I have come away with is a basic, and fundamental knowledge that these SACDs are probably as close as we are going to get to that miraculous find of grandma’s unplayed original. The sound is magnificent.

So what is Time Out itself, then? Sometimes I wonder if it is the greatest jazz record I have ever heard. Then I put it next to an album released that very same year by Miles Davis: Kind of Blue. I wonder if 1959 was the greatest year jazz has ever known.

What I come away with from all of that though are either two brilliant recordings, or two gospels. The reason both of those albums remain among the bestselling jazz albums of all time is because they are a state of mind—and I hope Analogue Productions gets the chance to work on Kind of Blue. But for now, they (and we) have Time Out. They are two sides of the same coin—Miles, Coltrane, and Bill Evans reflected. Brubeck is jump-starting the next generation with Time Out.

As beautiful as some of Paul Desmond’s solos are on Time Out, the focus is ahead. And it still feels that way. Listen to it. Brubeck’s music is as abstract, and as forward-looking today as it was in 1959. Nobody makes images, or music like this. The forward movement inherent in “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” “Take Five,” or “Pick Up Sticks” is permanent, as are the quieter moments such as “Strange Meadow Lark,” or “Kathy’s Waltz.”

I cannot imagine there is a better sounding recording of Time Out than this SACD. And, it also happens to be one of the greatest jazz albums I have ever heard.

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