One of the paradoxes of jazz is that the individual is highly valued, yet iconoclasts are often undervalued, either by critics or audiences. Pianist Dave Brubeck has had no trouble attracting fans over more than half a century, but critics have been less embracing, often saying he doesn't swing.
Brubeck became wildly popular in the '50s, when his quartet with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond pioneered jazz concerts at colleges. Students then were familiar with classical musicmusic appreciation classes were still taughtso Brubeck's counterpoint and Bach references were familiar (more so than to the average jazz fan), while his hard-pounding piano and rhythms connected his sound to the R&B and early rock of the day. That quartet, with bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello, are represented here in its three dominant modes: the counterpoint of "Two Part Contention" (1958), personalizing a pop song on "Someday My Prince Will Come" (1962), and exploring odd time signatures on its jukebox hit, the 5/4 "Take Five" (1966).
Brubeck's solo on "Prince" offers a template to his logical approach to improvising, heard again and again throughout the CD's 50-year span of Brubeck's Monterey gigs. He begins creating small kernels of single notes from chords, developing phrases that reference "I Got Rhythm" then rumbles into block chords, yielding a new riff logically clambering up through two-handed chords to a melodic resolution.
While his solo is more back-and-forth rollicking on 2007's "Margie," it develops largely in the same, internally logical, way. The lapidary Desmond style was the perfect foil for the lumberjack penchants of Brubeck, while altoist Bobby Militello, with Brubeck since the '80s, is more predictably hard-boppish. But his flute on 1985's "Tritonis," another 5/4 exploration, is a welcome diversionas are two 1971 tracks from the surprisingly compatible quartet Brubeck had with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, as well as the bass solo contributions of Christian McBride and Michael Moore on the disc's most recent outings.
Personnel: Dave Brubeck: piano; Paul Desmond: alto sax; Eugene Wright: bass; Joe Morello: drums; Gerry Mulligan: baritone sax; Jack Six: bass; Alan Dawson: drums; Bill Smith: clarinet; Bobby Militello: flute, alto sax: Chris Brubeck: bass; Randy Jones: drums; Stan Poplin: bass; Christian McBride: bass; Michael Moore: bass.