The Definitive Dave Brubeck on Fantasy, Concord Jazz, and Telarc collects twenty-six tracks on two compact discs. All of the tunes were previously released, though once again the Concord Music Group has provided jazz fans with an excellent starter set. Amazingly, the recording dates span more than sixty years, a testament to Dave Brubeck's longevity. This compilation arrives just in time for the pianist's 90th birthday.
The tracks are arranged, for the most part, chronologically. The earliest piece, "I Found a New Baby," captures a young Brubeck performing solo before a live college audience in 1942. The sound quality is quite rough, but fidelity improves dramatically with the remaining selections. Dating from the late-'40s to early-'50s, eight of the tunes were originally released on a series of 10" LPs entitled Distinctive Rhythm Instrumentals. The trio line-up consisted of Brubeck on piano, Ron Crotty on bass, and Cal Tjader on drums. As the original album title makes clear, the trio offers quite distinctive takes on old standards.
Alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, longtime Brubeck collaborator, is featured on six quartet recordings from the '50s. A 1952 performance of "Over the Rainbow" is mostly Brubeck alone on piano, with Desmond's sweet-toned alto entering very late to restate the melody. A lengthy work-out on "All the Things You Are" was recorded live at the same school, College of the Pacific, Stockton, California, as the disc-opening "I Found a New Baby."
The second disc leaps forward in Brubeck's career, 1982 to be exact. The nine tracks cover the '80s, '90s, and '00s. The reason for the abrupt change in era is due to Brubeck switching record labels. This collection does not include his Columbia years, nor other labels (Atlantic, A&M) that released his music during the '60s and '70s. A live take of Brubeck's signature tune, the Paul Desmond classic "Take Five," comes from a 1987 concert in Moscow. The clarinet of Bill Smith provides improvisatory highlights. The most recent tune is a Brubeck original, "Forty Days," recorded with a quartet in 2004. Moody alto sax work, courtesy of Bobby Militello, dominates the track.