Before he hit it big with Time Out
, Dave Brubeck found a niche market with the college crowd. The tweed coat and horn-rimmed glasses set were eager to soak in all that he had to offer, and Brubeck can take part of the credit for turning jazz into a more academic pursuit than it was previously held to be.
His earliest recordings, such as this one from 1953, were mostly standards recorded in various live venues at colleges around the country. While most people are familiar with Brubeck's later Columbia records that feature all the hits, these early recordings feature a tarnished charm and a glimpse of the foundation of the West Coast sound. Here one can hear the beginnings of the polyrhythmic experiments that would evolve into forays in odd time signatures and the quartet's ability to have multiple members soloing without muddying the sound.
Paul Desmond and Brubeck are one of the greatest teams jazz ever produced, and even at this early stage both share an ability to navigate tricky melodic concepts while still sounding smooth. Although the up-tempo numbers are the most adventurous, a lovely reading of "Laura" by Brubeck is the most conventional and the most rewarding, and "I'll Never Smile Again" is a tune tailor made for Desmond's dry, wistful soloing.
Many will bypass these early recordings in favor of the later concept albums, but with this album of standards in a live setting, Brubeck doesn't disappoint and shows that he was a little ahead of the game and finding new ways to tread old paths. Those who enjoy this recording will also like the equally fine Jazz at the College of the Pacific Vol. 2, featuring more recordings from this concert.
Personnel: Dave Brubeck - piano; Paul Desmond - alto sax; Ron Crotty - bass; Joe Dodge - drums.