TERRY GROSS, HOST:
In December, Columbia released a box set of the 19 studio albums Dave Brubeck's Quartet recorded between 1955 and 1966. Besides familiar titles like "Time Out" and "Dave Digs Disney," there were a host of all but forgotten albums. A few of those are now available as download-only releases. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead recommends a couple.
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KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Drummer Joe Morello with pianist Dave Brubeck. After Brubeck signed with Columbia in the mid-1950s, his quartet made a few albums a year. By 1959, they were short of material to record, having exhausted their live repertoire. Their album "Time Out" with tunes in odd meters like "Take Five," would point them in a new direction, but it took that stuff a couple of years to catch on.
The album Brubeck made just before "Time Out," "Gone with the Wind," consisted mostly of moldy old tunes, many in the public domain, that the band hadn't played before. It could have been a throwaway, with trifles like "Deep in the Heart of Texas," where Brubeck could get heavy handed. But sometimes his playing is surprising restrained. For me, that's Brubeck at his best.
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WHITEHEAD: Saxophonist Paul Desmond on Stephen Foster's "The Old Folks at Home" listed at "Swanee River" on Dave Brubeck's album "Gone with the Wind." His quartet's great success was partly due to Joe Morello's flashy drumming and partly to the contrast between the exuberant Brubeck and the imperturbably serene Paul Desmond.
The alto saxophonist improvised plaintively lyrical melodies with a tangy sweet-and-sour tone. He and Brubeck orbited and influenced each other. Desmond wrote their splashy hit "Take Five," and when he'd quote other tunes in a solo for sport, Brubeck might rise to the bait. Improvising on "Gone with the Wind," Brubeck works in "Have You Met Miss Jones," the "Candid Camera" theme and a few more tunes.
(SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ MUSIC, "GONE WITH THE WIND)
WHITEHEAD: Dave Brubeck with Gene Wright on bass. The quartet's next and biggest album, "Time Out," was partly inspired by rhythms they'd heard touring the world in 1958. After that, it was back to more Stephen Foster and such for the album "Southern Scene," but with fewer sightings of Paul Desmond, who'd weary of the band occasionally.
Confronting other cultures may have prompted the travelers to reassess their own, but then other jazz musicians played Anglo-American traditional themes during the late '50s folk music boom. Brubeck's quartet would record a few albums inspired by their tours, like the classic "Jazz Impressions of Japan." But the first of them was "Jazz Impressions of the U.S.A." from 1956, with Brubeck's "Ode to a Cowboy." The loping bassist here is Norman Bates.
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WHITEHEAD: No jazz musician was more urbane than saxophonist Paul Desmond, who sounds as much at home on the rural sketches on "Jazz Impressions of the U.S.A." as on the salutes to Broadway and the Chicago Loop - no surprise, as his tone never varies. Much as Morello's slamming could get on Desmond's nerves, the drummer and the pianist knew how to lay back and set him up. And Brubeck wrote Desmond nice vehicles like the rolling pastorale "Summer Song."
(SOUNDBITE OF JAZZ MUSIC, "SUMMER SONG")
WHITEHEAD: Before they were world travelers, the Brubeck quartet crisscrossed the American continent, as the toast of the college circuit. Dave Brubeck wrote "Plain Song" on a bus somewhere in western Iowa, and you can hear the road weariness, monotonous landscape and ca-thunk of tires on concrete highway slabs. No wonder this busy quartet's music drew more and more on what they saw and heard on the road. It's like rockers and country singers doing songs about the Holiday Inn. You write what you know.
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GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the jazz columnist for emusic.com and author of the book "Why Jazz?" He reviewed the two download-only re-releases "Gone with the Wind" and "Jazz Impressions of the U.S.A." by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Well, this is usually the part of the program where I tell you how to download podcasts of our show.
But today, it's the part of the program where I apologize for the podcast problems we've been having with downloads outside of our website, including iTunes. I'm really sorry. Those problems are in the process of being fixed. For now, please visit our website to download any editions you may have missed. That's freshair.npr.org. I'm Terry Gross.