Dave Brubeck

It’s incumbent upon Brubeck fans to occasionally defend their position. The pianist has always been somewhat suspect when it comes to the critical game of guessing who’s a trueblood jazzer and who’s a lightweight, mainly because he’s white, popular, and associated with “cool jazz.” Not to mention that he occasionally drops in classical allusions and doesn’t swing his single lines in the Bud Powell manner.

For the record, Brubeck never had any classical piano training. He studied composition with Milhaud, but his practical piano know-how came on jazz jobs. The truth is that he swung and he was a distinguished improviser and writer. He did these things in his own way - his solos incorporate everything from blues licks to bizarro chord clusters to bar line tricks; his writing is as internally clever as it is outwardly appealing. Inasmuch as “Vive le difference” is the credo of any open-minded listener, Brubeck was and is unassailable as a dedicated jazz force. If he took it to college and Carnegie, is that not a good thing?

One reasonable objection is that he wasn’t part of jazz’s general incest. You wouldn’t expect to find his name on any Blue Note jam sessions or whatever. Was it because he was unwelcome, or incapable? Maybe, I don’t know. Regardless, he had his own working bands and creative say within his recording contracts. He called his own shots and did not, for money or art, need to be a versatile sideman. To get back to the point, I sometimes wonder why Brubeck wasn’t a part of that game, maybe that’s what folks hold against him, but hey, Thelonious Monk wasn’t either. And Monk is the consummate classic jazz artist in my mind. Yet he was as inflexible (and probably much more so) than anyone you could name. Monk did his own thing, and he surrounded himself with people who could help him do it. Now, I’m not trying to equate Brubeck and Monk, but if the latter did some great work in relative isolation, why can’t we say the former did as well?

See, there I went defending Brubeck. Oh well. Here’s a fraction of his vast catalog:

Jazz: Red, Hot, and Cool
Oct. 1954 - Aug. 1955 / Columbia

Erring on the side of Cool. Brubeck and altoist Paul Desmond had produced a few live titles already, and this one captures quartet appearances at Basin Street in NYC. “Lover” is the most interesting track; Brubeck and bassist Bob Bates play one pulse, drummer Joe Dodge states another, and Desmond ultimately sides with the drums to deliver a double-timed gem. After that comes a selection of standard material. Desmond thrives on the steady grooves and his solos are consistently inviting. He creates more sequences than usual, even getting into some question/answer exchanges with himself. Brubeck hints at future experiments with rhythmic counterpoint and the occasional classical tidbit, but for the most part, a lot of his playing is fairly soft, which should surprise those who think of him as a brick-fingered, china shop bull. He tempers the clever-clever moments with dashes of lyricism and real blues. “Indiana” stands out as an example of cool-bop at its best, and Brubeck’s original “The Duke” makes a brief appearance.

The recorded mono sound is intimate in a 1954 kind of way, the only fault being the hiss that on one occasion resonates from one of Dodge’s cymbals. (Some cymbals have “wash”; this one is a rainstorm.) The two bonus tracks on the 2001 CD issue don’t add much, and “Closing Time Blues” disrupts the sensitivity that Brubeck had cultivated in his playing during the main program. Not an essential acquisition, but anyone with a passing interest in Desmond will enjoy most of the tracks.

Brubeck Time
Oct-Nov. 1954 / Columbia

While in town for the Basin Street gig, the Brubeck quartet slipped into the studio and knocked out the bulk of this affable album. Two highlights: the gentle blues “Audrey”, featuring Desmond’s feathery tone, and “Stompin’ For Mili”, which stomps along and reaches an excited denouement. Notable goodies elsewhere are Desmond’s spunky solo in “Why Do I Love You” and the zeal of Fats Waller’s “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now.” There’s a restraint to some of the other tracks, whether they are wearing cardigans (“Jeepers Creepers”) or burdened with canon treatments (“Brother Can You Spare a Dime” has little of its intended poignancy). Brubeck goes off on contrary tangents here and there, also touching on the improvised counterpoint that he and Desmond were known for. Yet these are relatively safe performances - “Mili” aside - that don’t shine much beyond the individual playing times. Everyone has to hear “Audrey” at least once, though, and Desmond is again the selling point throughout.

Dave Digs Disney
June and Aug. 1957 / Columbia

I delayed hearing this for years because Dave digging Disney seemed too wholesome a jazz concept – and the loveable characters on the cover didn’t help, not that I wanted it to portray the musicians crashed in an opium den – but it was my loss all along. Though most of the themes chirp their origins proudly, Brubeck and Paul Desmond gain a lot of mileage via altered harmonies over the hardly-censored drive of bassist Norman Bates and drummer Joe Morello. Bill Evans went on to do wonderful things with “Alice in Wonderland”, the lead song here, and so does Brubeck, swapping lyrical and soulful ideas. Desmond finds gold in the slick swing of “Give a Little Whistle”, and after one snaky tangent, he turns his sax solo into a two-way conversation, as amusing as it is amazing.

“Heigh Ho”, believe it or not, becomes almost a bebop tune, cooled down by “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Someday My Prince Will Come”. The finale “One Song” starts and ends softly but ramps up in the middle, Desmond killing yet again. Posterity’s extra tracks “Very Good Advice” (bluesy sax, Dave nabbing Paul’s last phrase) and “So This Is Love” are as good as the ones that made the real album, though I think they made the best choices in that regard. A special edition was released in 2011; find one version or another, because it’s excellent.

Jazz Impressions of Eurasia
Aug. 1958 / Columbia

World travel inspired Brubeck’s compositions plenty of times, and this record is among the first to promote the fact. Inspirations from Afghanistan, Germany, Turkey, Poland, England, and India result in unusual but hardly radical melodies and arrangements, as Brubeck, Paul Desmond, bassist Joe Benjamin, and drummer Joe Morello tend to improvise as they otherwise would. “Nomad” kicks off with a saxophone incantation and sparse drum pattern appropriate to its title but assumes a purely American character thereafter, and similarly, “The Golden Horn” begins with a foreign piano/drum riff that develops into pretty much straight jazz, Brubeck pulling blues colors from the dark harmony. Though neither track truly treks after their initial suggestions, they excel as they stand, as does the smooth London portrait “Marble Arch”.

The light classical theme of “Brandenburg Gate” sounds like a piano etude given full-band treatment – nice but not exciting – and Brubeck’s theatricality oversells “Thank You”, an otherwise compact ballad of sorts. The boldest expedition is taken by “Calcutta Blues”, where Desmond reaches nirvana over a mesmerizing vamp, Morello hand-tapping the drums, the mood never wavering. For this and “Nomad”, I’ve played the album many times, and if one judges it as a collection of Impressions rather than truly exotic ventures, it’s worth its weight in bronze, maybe silver.

Time Out
June-Aug 1959 / Columbia

Sometimes the Very Popular Album is a good one, even a great one. You have to buy Brubeck’s insistence that this wasn’t a commercial shot; come on, a bunch of tunes in goofy time signatures? But it turns out that catchy themes and user-friendly solos made this one of the most famous jazz titles ever. Brubeck was headed toward this all along, considering his rhythmic restlessness of the past decade, and he had just the right support team - Eugene Wright’s steady bass, Joe Morello’s dexterous drumming - to make it work. But rhythmic twists aside, the main staying power of the music comes from its simplicity and openness.

The first three numbers make up the most classic LP side Brubeck ever cut. “Blue Rondo” works because the fancy 9/8 exposition is eventually switches to a straightforward 4/4 blues, giving the players (and listeners) room to breathe. “Strange Meadowlark” is a relaxed piece from the piano intro through the solos, and maybe because it’s not rhythmically demonstrative, it remains the hidden gem of the record. And then there’s “Take Five”, the most popular quintuple meter tune in the Western world. Desmond wrote it, and in rehearsal he had a classic line of understatement, “I’ve got these two themes, but I can’t get them to go anyplace.” Dave’s hypnotic piano vamp keeps the players oriented in the unfamiliar meter and gives Morello something to play against in his drum spot. Notice how in the modal sax solo, Desmond tests most of the notes therein as points of emphasis. I wonder how he would have sounded on Kind of Blue, seriously.

The back half of the album is slighter than the front yet has some interesting moments. The theme of “Three to Get Ready” may be a little too precious, but Brubeck’s mixed meter solo pays off, while his overdone hammering in “Everybody’s Jumping” is countered by a cool 6/4 figure that pops up every so often. And how not to get sucked into Wright’s bassline in “Pick Up Sticks”? Everyone’s heard this record hundreds of times, and familiarity has a strange habit of breeding you know what. Listening with virgin ears is nearly impossible, but give it a shot anyway - you might just revive some first-kiss magic. Hyped or not, it’s one of this band’s best, and why not stick it on a list of jazz’s best albums as well? There’s hardly a note put wrong, and a few of the novelties lead to genuine depth.

Time Further Out
May-June 1961 / Columbia

Exploiting the success of Time Out, this disc reeks of sequelitis. Brubeck parlays his time experiments here into a blues suite with varying meters, but for one thing, there’s nothing bluesy about such trivial material as “Charles Matthew Hallelujah” or “Unsquare Dance” (clap along in 7, y’all). Also, all the attention drawn to the rhythms is kind of gimmicky. In the 1996 reissue, Brubeck acknowledges how “self-conscious” he was in his original liner note explanations, but the band really was out on a limb at the time, so one can look back on these things with forgiveness.

In any case, the band achieves an authentic blues vibe when they go for the laid-back approach in “Bluesette” and “Blue Shadows in the Street”. Brubeck finds some nice ideas in “Maori Blues”, and on several tunes he harks back to the old, old school of piano with saloon-like inflections. It’s strange to hear such anachronistic playing on a forward-looking 1961 record, but you can tell Brubeck means what he plays, and his love for the Wallers and Blakes and Willie the Lions is real. So goes “It’s a Raggy Waltz” – the theme is more tinsel than sinew, while the enthusiasm of Brubeck’s solo justifies it.

“Far More Blue” inherits the “Take Five” rhythm and barely evades redundancy; “Far More Drums” grants Morello a polymetric solo that about steals the album. Apart from this obvious highlight, nothing really stands out. The best parts come when the band is in no hurry.

Countdown: Time in Outer Space
May-Dec 1961 / Columbia

The third installment in the Time cycle. “Castilian Blues/Drums” is another two-parter in 5/4 with a Morello money shot, yet everything else has a fresh scent to it. Even “Someday My Prince Will Come”, which the quartet had already recorded, prompts top solos and wise rhythmic ambiguity. Dave still explains all the rhythmic happenings in the liner notes, but it’s a good read because the hijinks are less obvious by now. “Why Phillis”, for example, is a bass feature that happens to hide some metrical tugging and pushing, and “Three’s a Crowd” is so smooth that one would hardly notice a lonely bar of 2/4 in there. “Countdown”, featuring tympani, bass, and boogie-woogie piano, takes place in 10/8, and I love it when Brubeck and Wright lock into the walking riff together.

The last half of the album includes four pieces that Brubeck adapted from a ballet he was writing; their charts stir classical breezes except for “Fast Life”, a tricky swinger. I like the tender theme of “Waltz Limp”, and “Danse Duet” develops ideas from a previous century before modernized solos from Desmond (in 3) and Dave (in 4). Part of the charm of these pieces might be their brevity, yet that could be levied as a criticism as well. Only “Someday My Prince” runs to investigative length, and producer Teo Macero keeps everything else to concise running times, either through pre-planning or the razor blade. (You can hear several edits on the quartet’s studio albums of this time.) The question is thus begged – if odd-times are so inspiring, why does the group rein in their performances so much? Part of the answer is that the group does not hold back in live situations, and the other part probably resides in LP playing time consideration. That’s a small beef anyway, as this album traces a wide orbit, coming “Back to Earth” for a watering-hole blues. The bonus “Fatha” pays homage to Mr. Hines.

At Carnegie Hall
Feb. 21 1963 / Columbia

For all the time experiments and thematic albums, the Brubeck Quartet didn’t forget how to entertain a room. This double length live set makes a case for them being one of the best quartets ever, a unique alignment with everyone slotted into complementary roles, and they had a sound. The great small jazz bands - Coltrane’s quartet, Miles’ quintets, certain Jazz Messenger lineups, the Brown/Roach groups - were more than the sum of their parts, and they had an inimitable collective sound. Well, so does this team, balancing originality and strong traditional ties with two distinctive soloists and a tight foundation.

Bold comparisons or not, the evidence is right here in an amazing Carnegie Hall concert. They deliver the hits along with choice standards, and it’s a fun ride from the opening “St. Louis Blues” to the predictable finale. “Three to Get Ready” is toughened up, “Blue Rondo” is very effective, and the slight-in-the-studio “Bossa Nova USA” comes alive here. “Pennies from Heaven” is a prime exhibit of straight swing, while the rendition of “For All We Know” takes desert island honors. Desmond’s solo is immaculate, utterly melodic, and Brubeck follows with more abstract ideas. Wright and Morello are watertight throughout the show, and the drummer gets an extended showcase in “Castilian Drums”. This is the album’s weak point - not in Morello’s playing, but in the way the loudly-mixed audience turns the drum solo into a spectator sport. Was Joe working the crowd, or did people just have an instinctive clapping and hooting response to blurry drumsticks? For the home listener, it’s distracting. And note that Morello keeps his later “Take Five” spot very brief - enough’s enough.

Given the formality of a show at Carnegie, the setlist must have been well deliberated, a mix of heat and reflection, new and old. The recording and mix are excellent, notwithstanding the intrusive audience on the drum solo. On most days, I’d tout this as best representation of the Brubeck quartet. Do not hesitate.

Time Changes
Oct. 1963 - Jan. 1964 / Columbia

More time experiments with an epic centerpiece. The driving trio track “Iberia” leads off, Brubeck sculpting a jagged solo and Morello finding the sweet spots on his toms. After that, the sun comes out in such lighthearted material as “Unisphere” and “Cable Car”. “World’s Fair” has a terrific exposition in 13, but the strange beat divisions hinder the ensuing solos. Joe Morello contributes a rare composition, the childish “Shim Wah”, saved by Brubeck’s authoritative fingerwork.

That mini-program is but prelude to the main attraction, “Elementals”, written by Brubeck and performed by the quartet and an orchestral conglomerate. Third-stream ventures are often cause to be apprehensive, yet this long-form piece (sixteen and a half minutes) is quite good, and frankly, it blows the doors off Brubeck’s “Brandenburg Gate” concerto of a few years earlier. The blending of ensembles is seamless - like four olives in a big martini - and the colorful scoring weaves threads of Gershwin, Duke, Mingus, and Stravinsky (and Brubeck, of course) into a mid-20th century tapestry.

“Elementals” begins with dramatic pulses and ascensions from strings, over which Desmond says hello and Brubeck offers splintered greetings. The heavy overture reaches a climax at three minutes, and then a lyrical waltz theme begins. These chords are explored at some length by the score, which allots solos to alto and piano, and the background is constantly alive. A grander theme for brass and strings is introduced, and just when the whole waltz section seems exhausted, it segues (at about the 11-minute mark) into a burst of new textures. This signals the elongated homestretch, with hot rhythm figures, tense strings, and a general escalation in fervor. There are two crescendos, split by a percussion section (can’t forget about Joe), laced with big-band measures, and the whole comes crashing to an ambiguous halt. Fantastic. Nothing else to do except play it again, or else listen to the bonus track “Theme from Elementals”, where the quartet extracts one segment as an aperitif.

Jazz Impressions of Japan
June 1964 / Columbia

An underrated/overlooked gem. The Quartet’s visit to Japan left a number of impressions on Brubeck, one of them being the way Japanese pop music adopted the Western parody of parallel lines to conjure that stereotypical Oriental sound - they apparently didn’t mind the irony. Neither does Brubeck, as the opening “Tokyo Traffic” uses this fourth-hand tactic (along with woodblocks and a gong) to dip its feet in Eastern waters. It’s a humorous way to start the program (with great solos from all), and it would be the only parody on the album but for the cheeky boogaloo “Toki’s Theme”, a brief misfire.

Most of the other Japanese influence seems to be spiritual and emotional, as the gentle landscapes of “Fujiyama” (a slow canon) and “Koto Song” (a blues at heart) have a profound meditative quality rarely heard in the group’s previous work. Desmond is spellbinding on both, and Brubeck’s playing retains a real sense of space, where even his imitative koto trills work. “Rising Sun” is one of his greatest compositions, a rich labyrinth that sounds majestic and introspective at once. “The City is Crying” also touches on the dramatic, with heavy chords and bass glissandos up front, followed by effortless swing and more prime Desmond. The altoist is inspired by nearly every piece, and he even drops a dry-martini honk into his last “Osaka Blues” chorus. Doesn’t Eugene Wright sound great as well? For some reason, his bass really stands out on these tunes.

“Toki” aside - and one might even forgive it its sins, as it was written for a TV show - Jazz Impressions of Japan is as beautiful as the quartet could be. The affectations of “Tokyo Traffic” turn out to be a red herring, as the majority of the album finds the group immersed in something truly different and sounding at peace with it.

Jazz Impressions of New York
June-Aug. 1964 / Columbia

Varied and stylish as its inspirational city, this record has several high points. “Theme from Mr. Broadway” grabs the listener right away with a busy melody and pointy accents, tailed by the delightful “Broadway Bossa Nova”, a jazz earworm if I’ve ever heard one. The tunes then start alternating between contemplation and briskness, a couple of the ballads especially marvelous. One would be “Lonely Mr. Broadway”, where Desmond takes an exquisite stand over the barest of support, and the other is “Broadway Romance”, which includes a lovely chord sequence that sax and piano decorate most brilliantly. (Those are the only four tunes with Broadway in the title, if you’re wondering.) Faster pieces like “Summer on the Sound”, “Spring in Central Park”, and “Something To Sing About” are all substantial, and though this isn’t a dedicated ‘Time’ album, the group moves in 3’s and 6’s as often as they do in 4. “Winter Ballad” and “Sixth Sense” rate lower for me, though I wouldn’t say they’re objectively bad at all. The jam “Upstage Rumba” finishes the album with a bass groove and hooky piano figures punctuated by a percussion squad that includes the one and only Teo Macero on claves. Four star disc.

Time In
Sept-Oct. 1965 / Columbia

In the nonchalant final album of the Time cycle, a few pieces traverse odd meters, but no fuss is made about it. Primarily, the album is about melody, be it fleeting (“Lost Waltz”, “Cassandra”) or reflective (“Softly, William, Softly”, with lovely solos). “Forty Days” takes up the 5/4 cause but renders it smoother than ever in one of Brubeck’s more evocative compositions. “Lonesome” follows the piano trio on a dusty, starlit trail for a couple minutes, whereupon Desmond joins them like a lost friend, and Brubeck ends the journey with a delicate statement. Brubeck and his mates aren’t out to impress anyone with formal cleverness anymore, and as far back as “Unsquare Dance” they knew to keep their cutesy pieces short in duration. (In this case, it’s the tambourine-laden “He Done Her Wrong”.) By the same token, Time In doesn’t ascend as many heights as the earlier titles, and it even has an antiquated feel in spots, but it’s kind of a hedge-your-bet situation. Even with such a banal starting premise as “Travellin’ Blues”, the solos manage to deliver.

The title track stands out as a sudden example of Brubeck’s modernism, a trio piece unlike almost anything he had played before, deployed with surprising accents and harmonic links. At the very least, “Time In” would make a good blindfold test for Brubeck fans. It is undeniably him, but it hints at a parallel career as a more iconoclastic player, though the honkytonk riffing betrays him at the last minute. Mark this track along with “Lost Waltz” as a strong brief of Brubeck’s piano skills.

Buried Treasures
May 1967 / Columbia

So titled because these are previously unreleased live recordings from Mexico City, exhumed from the vault and released in 1998. It’s not the most revelatory of documents, but one gets to hear the classic quartet not long before they parted ways, and the song selection covers some nice second-tier originals (“Mr. Broadway”, “Forty Days”). Waltzes, 5/4, tango, whatever, the band makes everything easy listening...in a good way. In the slow blues “Koto Song”, more elaborate than the studio take, Desmond delivers a divine solo, and “You Go To My Head” is one of those ballroom ballads that this group delivers so well. Brubeck gets worked up at times and also pulls back to the point of fragility. Mostly you can hear how comfortable he sounds with his comrades, which in retrospect might be the reason why he wanted to shake things up (i.e., call it quits). “Sweet Georgia Brown” is presented coyly and has fun solos; for even more fun, try to ignore the theme and pretend instead that the guys are playing Monk’s “Bright Mississippi”. There’s also the obligatory “Take Five”, while “St. Louis Blues” sends the set out handily. (Ooof.) Worth finding.

Time Signatures: A Career Retrospective
1946 - 1991 / Columbia

A four disc box originally released in the early 1990s and then reissued in smaller packaging several years later. The selections start with the early Fantasy records, sample a whole swath of the Columbias, then venture into the Atlantics and other labels, ending on a “Stardust” duet with clarinetist Bill Smith. Paul Desmond is at Brubeck’s side from day one, eventually replaced by baritone Gerry Mulligan (not as seductive a pairing, if you ask me). In the 1970s, Dave’s offspring start to play for him. I’m not thrilled by any of the later material, although the unreleased “Tritonis” from the late ‘80s has a definitive polyrhythmic piano solo.

The collection is mostly aimed toward the casual fan - Everything You May Or May Not Have Wanted To Know About Brubeck, But Your Cousin Saw Time Out On Your Shelf And Thought You Might Like This Box For Christmas. Well hell, lest I seem snooty, I got it when I first started delving into jazz, and I still think it’s a great sampler. The best music comes from the classic quartet, and there’s nice stuff on either side of that equator. For better or worse, there are a few guest vocals and a couple of orchestral outings thrown in for variety. The booklet (including a historical essay by Doug Ramsey and a track by track commentary from Brubeck) is very good. Worth it as an intro to Brubeck’s world - it’s all casual ears should need - although the more serious fan will require some of the albums listed above.

The Columbia Studio Albums Collection 1955-1966
Released 2012

Assumedly to assess media-related viability, Columbia/Legacy halted CD reissues in the new millennium, but they’ve since decided to give select catalogs a last physical run. This particular series – which also includes collections of Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, etc. – boxes original albums and previously released bonus material on discs housed in replicated LP sleeves with an overseeing booklet. Stating the obvious, this box gathers all the studio recordings of Brubeck’s quartet – the leader on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, and mainly Eugene Wright and Joe Morello on bass and drums, except as noted elsewhere. The masters seem to be the latest and greatest available, some identical to the most recent reissues and others updating reels that hadn’t been touched in a couple decades or more.

Here are the 19 titles contained in this set, release years in parentheses, and an asterisk indicating I’ve reviewed it above: Brubeck Time (1955)*, Jazz Impressions of the USA (1957), Dave Digs Disney (1957)*, Jazz Impressions of Eurasia (1958)*, Time Out (1959)*, Southern Scene (1960), Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernstein (1960), Gone with the Wind (1960), Time Further Out (1961)*, Countdown: Time in Outer Space (1962)*, Bossa Nova USA (1963), Brandenburg Gate: Revisited (1963), Time Changes (1964)*, Jazz Impressions of Japan (1964)*, Jazz Impressions of New York (1964)*, Angel Eyes (1965), My Favorite Things (1965), Time In (1966)*, Anything Goes! (1967).

Brief notes on those stray titles:

Jazz Impressions of the USA: The first of the Impressions series is an all original program geared toward nostalgic Americana. Not a totally exciting record, there are plenty of fine solos, and “Ode to a Cowboy” and “Yonder for Two” stand with anything else produced by this group. Norman Bates is on bass and Joe Morello makes his studio debut with the quartet, his drums specially featured in “Sounds of the Loop”.

Southern Scene: “Oh Susanna”, “Sleepy Time Down South”, and “Little Rock Getaway” command attention, but thereafter the traditional material (minus the original title track and Eugene Wright’s “Happy Times”) makes for one of Brubeck’s lightest efforts, and “Deep in the Heart of Texas” rubs my fur the wrong way.

Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernstein: Comprising the four-part “Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Orchestra” (written by Howard Brubeck) and quartet selections from West Side Story and Wonderful Town, bluster and romance come in equal measures. Both Dave and Lenny knew how to make a grand statement, though the orchestral entries have enough tasteful layers and nuance to earn marks from me.

Gone with the Wind: The richer of the two Southern feasts includes “Georgia on My Mind”, “Basin Street Blues”, the title track (in which Desmond is pumped enough to quote Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas”), a journey on “The Lonesome Road”, and a couple of tacky themes (“Short’nin’ Bread” and “Camptown Races”) made endurable by Morello’s lively drumming.

Bossa Nova USA: The quartet boards the early-60s bossa nova train toting a suitcase of pleasant themes, and the one time they replicate the exact same beat is between the opening title piece and the closing standard “This Can’t Be Love”. Lightweight as the genre is, they make good use of it.

Brandenburg Gate Revisited: The sidelong string-heavy rearrangement of “Brandenburg Gate” (originally on Eurasia) can be commended for the quartet’s ability to adjust to playing within a large ensemble, but it runs the source material blandly into the ground. Of the four similarly saccharine tracks that follow, “G-flat Theme” stands out the most.

Angel Eyes: A handful of Matt Dennis songs made their way into jazz repertoire via Monk, Miles, Coltrane, etc., and here Brubeck devotes a whole LP to the composer. I like his take on “Everything Happens to Me” more than Monk’s versions, “Let’s Get Away from It All” and “Will You Still Be Mine” drive with style, the title track sweats a sexy bullet, and the remainder goes down easy. Great album.

My Favorite Things: Richard Rodgers this time, rendered with elation, wistfulness, soul, and whimsy. Not vanguard for 1965 but it still sounds sweet many years later.

Anything Goes! : In which the quartet celebrates several Cole Porter hits, allowing for an arbitrarily intricate “Night and Day” and pensive moments in “Love for Sale”. My picks are “Anything Goes”, “I Get a Kick Out Of You”, and “You’re the Top”, the latter subverted by Brubeck over Morello’s feisty pulse.

The abundance of first-rate music in this package makes it an easy recommendation, especially considering the breadth of album themes. But even though this great jazz combo painted fine pictures in the studio, please don’t overlook the live gallery, particularly the 1961 Carnegie Hall show, without which a Brubeck collection could never be complete.

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