Dave Brubeck, born in 1920, has stood astride the American jazz world for over six decades. His use of dissonant notes, the fusion of classical elements into his music, and the various tones he could coax from his piano helped to change the course of American music and influence the generations of musicians that grew up in his shadow. He was also one of the very few artists that was able to break out of his musical niche and make jazz accessible to a mainstream audience. His constant touring outside of the normal jazz clubs enabled the jazz art form to be appreciated by a new audience.
The Concord Music Group has been issuing a Very Best Of series by many of the jazz greats. The latest five releases resurrect music by Vince Guaraldi, Cannonball Adderley, Thelonious Monk, The Bill Evans Trio, and the subject of this review Dave Brubeck and all are welcome additions to their ever growing catalogue.
In some ways The Very Best Of is a bit misleading as the releases do not concentrate on a career but rather cull music from a specific period of time. The Very Best Of Dave Brubeck gathers some of his best tracks from his years with the Fantasy label, 1949-53.
The sides contained here explore the early Brubeck, before he became a household name who would grace the cover of Time magazine. His distinct sound had not coalesced but elements of what would follow were beginning to appear in short bursts. As such, they tend to be tracks that are not explored as often as his well-known material and its nice to have them back in circulation and in one convenient place.
The earliest tracks from 1949-50 find him with a simple rhythm section of bassist Ron Crotty and drummer Cal Tjader. Songs such as “Blue Moon,” “Let’s Fall In Love,” “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” and “Body and Soul” may not be as bold as much of his classic work but are an excellent view of him trying to develop his unique style.
By late 1952 alto saxophonist Paul Desmond was on board, and except for the one piano solo of “My Heart Stood Still,” is a constant presence on the last 10 tracks. His innovative sax lines gave Brubeck a partner to bounce off and as time passes on the set, they begin to settle in with the music becoming more complex. From “This Can’t Be Love” to “Frenesi” and onward to the classic “Stardust,” there is an increasingly sophistication to his music.
The last three tracks, “Stardust,” “Give A Little Whistle,” and “For All We Know,” were recorded live. They demonstrate his ability at the time to produce his music on stage.
The Very Best of Dave Brubeck finds Brubeck establishing his sound, poised to become one of the leading lights of the jazz world. The music may not be the equal of some of his later work but it is still worth exploring.