A Quartet of Five

Dave Brubeck Cultivates a Crowd, Calibrates Time, and Finds His Wings

Orgasm is Brubeck's true signature—all the fancy fractions in the world cannot disguise that. He gets there by stockpiling thicker and thicker chords in drummed patterns, before blurting into a world of ecstatic consonance. Sure enough, he soon finds his wings and you don't know if the audience is applauding in joy or relief. Just in case it wants more, a Morello solo follows. You don't hear many marathon drum solos today, but in 1963 they were unavoidable—Tony Williams recorded his "Walkin' " solo that year and every Monk concert had a Frankie Dunlop extravaganza. Stars like Blakey, Roach, Candido, Rich, and Krupa were expected to stretch out. So toward the end of the concert Morello does 10 minutes, and while these things do not usually travel well, his playing is so epic it will hold your attention at least once.

Whether due to temporary exhaustion or canny teasing, however, orgasm is not automatic. "For All We Know" showcases the Brubeck who drives nonbelievers nuts. Desmond spurns the melody five bars into the head and doesn't cite it again until the end of the chorus, when he restores the song's prettiest phrase ("tomorrow was made for some"). He continues, lyrical and sure. Now comes Dave on a journey of his own, playing variations on a theme composer J. Fred Coots would not recognize. His first chorus is conventional enough, with stabbing riffs and curt headlong arpeggios played against time and gliding niftily over the turnbacks until he hits a two-note figure (think "Cabin in the Sky") and a bright spot of melody, ending ominously with a couple of jabs to the bass clef. Those low notes, one every two bars, dominate the second chorus, until he mows down the changes and effects a clean slate on which to compile blockbuster chords for chorus three. He reverts to single-note phrases and seems about through, slowing down for dramatic emphasis, but it's a fakeout: He goes for a fourth chorus, by which time you wish he had put a lid on it, though you keep listening because you don't know what he's doing and suspect he doesn't either—a little romantic bravura, some swinging interplay with Morello, back to romance, straight time, three against four, and then—can it be?—a fifth chorus.

He is reenergized for "Pennies From Heaven," starting off with a Garneresque name-that-tune intro. Desmond is so hot by now he allows himself to squeak—a very good sign. Brubeck is at his best in his first two choruses, recomposing the material with a riff he develops before essaying a ferocious flurry. Then the chords start, but this time he generates a big band largesse and his daredevil persistence is convincing; he comes out of the chorus playing the closing riffs from "Four Brothers." He keeps it up for two more choruses, disarming the audience with passages on the beat, then behind the beat, and ultimately in a new lockstep beat of his own that finally gets folks whistling and stomping.

Horn-rims, square-faced smile, stubbornly articulate defenses
photo: Don Hunstein
Horn-rims, square-faced smile, stubbornly articulate defenses

And so it goes—surging again and again with "It's a Raggy Waltz," the Morello feature, and "Blue Rondo a la Turk," which hits the audience's G-spot big time. You no longer hear such roars at jazz concerts. Dave makes a little joke about playing in nine, but the solos are in four, which is why the piece works—the contrast between the frantic Middle Eastern one-two one-two one-two-three and Desmond's descending octave into bluesville. Desmond is so up he recycles the same climactic piping riffs on "Raggy Waltz" and "Blue Rondo." When they finish the latter the crowd is pretty well freaked. It wants more. Do me all night, Daverino. When he responds with the "Take Five" vamp, you can hear people shouting, "Yaaaaayyyy."

Dave is still playing concerts. But even he may never see an audience like that again.

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