... he seems closer than ever to "immortal" and this is my all-time favorite of his albums, both for its quality of performance and its quality of sound recording.
Some jazz musicians let their fingers do most of their musical thinking. That's not as random or risky as it sounds. A large part of the fundamentals of European music theory is built into the instruments of European music -- the scales, pitches, intervals, tonalities, etc. Jazz has clung rather conservatively to those instruments, making it basically a European art even when its affect is most Afro-American. On a sax or clarinet, what the fingers can do the fingers will do, and what the fingers can't do no amount of intellect will. It's a bit more 'complicated' on piano, of course. Brubeck was capable of loose finger improv, but it wasn't his forte. He didn't have the fast fingers of a Benny Green. So he needed more of ...
Musical Memory. Lots of jazz improv is the assembling of musical memories, the releasing of such memories from some subconscious reservoir in the hind cortex of the brain: licks and scraps of previous sessions, borrowings, mutations. Charlie Parker, dare I say, was the ultimate master of such music from memory; who could ever predict when a phrase of Wagner or Bartok would emerge from a chorus of "Now's the Time"? Brubeck's emergent allusions are more often in the opposite vein: bits of old-time funk, boogie-woogie, tongue in cheek. You'll hear plenty of these on this CD.
But Dave Brubeck was a self-conscious, self-monitoring musician, his fingers firmly controlled by a "super-ego" of classical theory. The "story" is that Brubeck couldn't learn to read music as a child because of poor eyesight, and that he faked his way "by ear" through classical piano lessons from his mother and others. It's very likely true, but not the whole truth. Brubeck also went on to study music theory at Mills College with Darius Milhaud and at UCLA with Arnold Schoenberg. The bottom line is that Brubeck was a musician who could not NOT know what he was playing and where his music should be going next. If you wanted your jazz raw and ferocious in the 1950s and 1960s, the Dave Brubeck Quartet was probably not your cuppa. Brubeck's jazz drew you into the music for music's sake rather than into yourself for emotional release.
This album is a cross-section of Brubeck's musical forms and moods, some blues-based, some ragtime, some dance, and some madrigalesque chromatic exploration. The second track - Bluette - is as chromatically acute as a Gesualdo madgrigal. It's pure joy to be "blue" in Brubeck's acoustic world. The whole CD is self-consciously an assertion that jazz need not be utterly bounded by minor-key eight-to-the-bar traditions. The time signatures include two pieces in 3/4, two in 5/4, one each in 6/4, 7/4, 8/8, and 9/8. It's calculated rhythmic virtuosity yet it also "swings." If you want anger in your jazz, you won't find it here. Brubeck's own "jazz favorite" was Duke Ellington, another joyful swinging entertainer. Was "race" a factor in Brubeck's career? No one could have been more aware of racial divisions, or more committed to ignoring them, than Dave Brubeck, a Swiss-German California farm boy whose army service in WW2 was as part of an "integrated" band called The Wolfpack, one of the earliest integrated ensembles in US military history.