Album Review: Dave Brubeck Quartet “Time Out” (1959)

The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s album Time Out was quite a revolutionary album within the jazz genre. Released in 1959, the album was the first jazz album to explore non-traditional jazz time signatures such as 9/8 and 5/4 time, whilst it also incorporated eastern musical influences. Musically, this album was in the style of cool jazz which emerged in the post-WWII period and as a style was based on more relaxed tempos and lighter tones as opposed to the more upbeat bebop style. Although this album contained the track Dave Brubeck became best known for in one of the most famous jazz pieces of all time “Take Five”, there is a whole lot more to this album than this one track alone with so much going on musically to keep the listener interested throughout.

As I have already mentioned this album was revolutionary for its exploration of unique time signatures of which some traditional jazz critics derided Brubeck for breaking with traditional modes and methods. However, this move was a great decision on the part of composers Brubeck and Paul Desmond and gave the material a different feel from other jazz records of the time. Opening track “Blue Rondo a La Turk” my favorite track on the album and one of the greatest jazz pieces of all time employs 9/8 time in its famous Turkish influenced opening motif. A flourish of piano and sax in unison in the form of a 2-2-3 subdivision was taken from Zeybeck dance music, a traditional form of Turkish folk music of which Brubeck encountered while on a tour of Eurasia. When listening to this opening motif you immediately think this is quite different and in no way typical jazz but more Spanish/Middle Eastern in nature. The motif lasts for nearly two minutes before finally, the cool jazz which dominates the album comes in, slowing things down to a more traditional jazz tempo with sax and piano playing off each other with double bass and drums in support.

There is so much going on, on this album musically for the listener to keep interested throughout whether it’s the soloing, little motifs within pieces, or the subtle rhythmic and tonal qualities of the individual pieces which vary from track to track. This is completely down to the musicians on this record who were some of the premier jazz musicians of the day, and are still held up as masters of their craft. Dave Brubeck the band leader was an amazing jazz composer and arranger – one of the best – while his piano playing is premier, particularly in his ability to mix his up his style of playing between soft flourishes and heavy outbursts of keyboard pounding. Paul Desmond’s alto sax playing is one of the highlights of this record, playing that draws the listener in with its warmth and feeling. He can lay claim to having written and performed one of the most recognisable saxophone parts in the history of music as heard on the fabulously innovative “Take Five”, while throughout this album his light melodic tone on the sax floats effortlessly along over the other instruments. Joe Morello’s drumming is also an album standout for me, particularly his amazing touch and feel as a drummer, and also in his ability to hold down many of the complex beats that the compositions on this record have. His dexterity as a drummer is seen on tracks like “Take Five” and “Three to Get Ready” where he plays some seriously innovative and complex drum patterns, and where as a listener I sit in amazement as to how he can keep time so immaculately to the point where you wouldn’t even need a metronome. Interestingly enough on the track “Kathy’s Waltz” if you zone in and isolate the drum sound his drumming actually sounds like a steam train traveling along the tracks, peculiar yes but not surprising considering this man’s touch with the sticks in hand.

Time Out was a great commercial success on its release reaching number two on the Billboard album charts, while it was the first ever jazz album to be certified platinum. It also went on to become the first jazz album to sell a million copies and is now one of the most well known and critically acclaimed jazz albums of all time. It is one of my favourite jazz records and is no doubt one of the best ever to be released; it is also very accessible as a jazz record for all music listeners largely because of its laid-back nature and intimate sound. The laid-back nature of cool jazz means albums like this one can be listened to in a wide variety of social settings whether it be over dinner, having a quiet night in with a wine, or as background music while entertaining guests. The sky’s the limit really when this music is concerned as it is all-encompassing, and without sounding pretentious transcends time and space with its beauty. A must listen for anyone who can appreciate good music and musical skill.  


– Sam


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