THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET: ‘Jazz At Oberlin’ (Craft Recordings/Original Jazz Classics)

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  • THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET: ‘Jazz At Oberlin’ (Craft Recordings/Original Jazz Classics)

This groundbreaking jazz group are best remembered for their iconic album, Time Out, recorded for Columbia in 1959, which produced that rare phenomenon in jazz, a hit single in the shape of ‘Take Five,’ which made No. 25 in Billboard’s Hot 100. But several years before Brubeck’s group conquered the mainstream, they were already making waves on the US contemporary jazz scene with their cool, highly original West Coast sound. The quartet, which then comprised pianist Brubeck and his chief sidekick, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, plus a rhythm section comprised of bassist Lloyd Davis and drummer Ron Crotty (who both departed before Time Out), made a seismic impact in the jazz world with Jazz At Oberlin, first released by Fantasy Records in 1953. It was an album recorded live at a music conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio, and showed how contemporary jazz was moving out of nightclubs – its traditional environment – and beginning to attract a big, enthusiastic student audience.

Exactly 70 years later, the album has been revived as part of Craft Recordings’ extraordinarily wonderful OJC vinyl series. This particular reissue has been mastered from the original analogue tape by the redoubtable audio engineer Bernie Grundman, who was just ten when the album was recorded. Thanks to his skill and expertise, he’s made the album sound incredibly fresh and detailed, as if it was recorded just recently.  

Though in its infancy, Brubeck’s quartet already sounded like a well-oiled machine. The group interplay is outstanding, particularly the exchanges between Brubeck’s almost clunky, earthy piano parts – his solos are often comprised of dense chordal blocks – and Desmond’s more ethereal warbling. Their different musical characters are most clearly evident in a terrific makeover of the jazz standard ‘These Foolish Things,’ where their different styles are dramatically juxtaposed. Other highlights include breezy versions of ‘How High The Moon’ and  ‘Perdido’ – both highlighting Desmond’s fluttery saxophone lines – and a similarly joyful take on ‘The Way You Look Tonight,’ which spotlights the classical music-influenced counterpoint between Brubeck and Desmond, whose contrasting styles are the undoubted key to the group’s appeal as well providing an exciting sense of sonic tension. 

Listeners only familiar with Brubeck via Time Out should check out Jazz At Oberlin, which is one of jazz’s greatest live albums, post-haste. It’s another brilliant audiophile release from the reactivated OJC imprint.  

CW (4/5)

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