Although his piano style was complex with heavy chords, polytones and polyrhythms, and the quartet often used odd-metered rhythms, his music became popular in the fifties and sixties, particularly with college audiences. The key to the original quartet sound was Paul Desmond, whose wit and cool alto tone (which he likened to a dry martini) moderated Brubeck's fire.
Best of Brubeck (1979-2004) is a two CD set. Disc One covers the Concord Jazz years (1979-1987) and opens with "Yesterdays." Cool is gone as the Coltrane-inspired Jerry Bergonzi pushes his tenor to the limit. Brubeck responds with powerful chords and lines. The quartet then takes an edgy Latin approach to "Symphony," breathing life into this mundane pop song. The sound changes again as Bergonzi is succeeded by a long-time Brubeck associate, Bill Smith, whose eloquent clarinet work on Brubeck's"Koto Sound" conjures up the scent of cherry blossoms. Brubeck then salutes two favorite pianists. Chris Brubeck switches from string bass to bass trombone for Fats Waller's "Black and Blue" and the father and son interplay builds and builds into a cry for action. On "Big Bad Basie" Dave melds stride and Basie licks with his personal touch. Then two more Brubeck originals: "Reflections of You" is a passionate chart in contrast to his lilting waltz,"Blue Lake Tahoe." The disc ends with "Dizzy's Dream" (check those quotes!), a percussive take on "St. Louis Blues," and the freest version of "Take Five" you will ever hear, thanks to Brubeck and Smith.
Brubeck combines bop and stride in a rip-roaring "Cherokee" to open Disc Two and the Telarc years (1993 to present). The horn of choice is alto. As the player, Bobby Militello, came from Maynard Ferguson's band his pyrotechnics shouldn't surprise the listener! They carry through to the Brubeck waltz, "Fourth of July." However, he does have a sensitive side and Brubeck's lovely ballad " The Things You Never Remember" finds Militello and Brubeck in a contemplative mood. "Waltzing" is easy-going and romantic. Then, from a London concert, the quartet has a jolly time with those Gershwin "Rhythm" changes including a Brubeck solo that is pure bop. His tune, "Day After Day" is lightly Latin with bassist Alec Dankworth very much in the mix. "Love For Sale" opens more casually than torrid but the group keeps turning up the heat. "Cassandra," in the book since 1965, shows no signs of wear and tear and both Militello and Brubeck appear particularly intense as they perform "Forty Days," a section from one of the pianist/composer's stirring oratorios. The disc closes with a New Orleans style " River Stay 'Way From My Door" (how unfortunately appropriate!), was recorded at NYC's Blue Note in 1993. The band goes out with two more cats joining in, Bill Smith on clarinet and Chris Brubeck on bass trombone.
This set stands out in an era when vaults are mined and compilations thrown together. Russell Gloyd, Dave's producer,conductor and manager since 1976 selected the tracks, and they are well-documented both by his remarks and Bob Blumenthal's liner notes. One can always argue about what is best but Best of Brubeck (1979-2004) is a fine presentation of the work of this master who achieved great popularity without ever compromising his musical integrity.