What jumps out at you immediately on the new Dave Brubeck Time OutTakes album is how incredibly fresh these songs were when the iconic pianist brought them into the studio in 1959. There are seven tracks here plus a bonus couple of minutes of self-effacing studio banter, streaming at Spotify. Most everything here other than the banter would appear in sometimes radically different form on the Time Out album, one of the ten most popular jazz records of all time. For anyone who might not rank Brubeck among the alltime great improvisers, he puts that theory to rest here. This isn’t just ephemera for diehards: it’s a shock this material hasn’t seen the light of day until now.
The first number is a practically nine-minute take of Blue Rondo A La Turk, Brubeck matching the go-for-broke rhythmic intensity of the final version, although he chills out almost to the point of getting lost when it comes to his solo – which explains why this didn’t make the cut. Still, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond really nails the dry martini sound he so famously emulated.
Beginning with Brubeck’s long neoromantic intro, a similarly expansive version of Strange Meadowlark captures both the bandleader and also Desmond at their lyrical best. Why didn’t this take end up on the record? We’ll never know.
Why the version of Cathy’s Waltz here also didn’t end up on the original album is another mystery: maybe a single, minor smudge of one of Brubeck’s high notes during the last verse in this otherwise jaunty, spot-on performance?
Hearing drummer Joe Morello subtly edge his way into the rhythm of Take Five on his ride cymbal is a trip: it’s easy to forget how much of the bestselling jazz single of all time is a drum solo. Desmond’s solo is a lot punchier here, as Morello’s turns out to be as well. One suspects he hams it up because he knows the song still isn’t ready.
Three to Get Ready is more wryly playful and slower than the final take, bassist Eugene Wright getting more time in the spotlight and having fun with it. The pianist is in lighter-fingered form, by contrast with Morello, in I’m in a Dancing Mood, another perfectly serviceable take. The last number is a “Watusi Jam,” referencing one of the innumerable dance memes of the late 1950s. Desmond sits out this deviously jungly Morello vehicle. Even when Brubeck and his legendary quartet aren’t at the peak of their form here – and 99% of the time they are – the fun they’re having is irresistible. And it’s no less insightful to witness how they went about making history with it.