Review Summary: 4/4 + 1= 5/4
Up until 1959, jazz was dominated by the 4/4 time signature, the standard, the “common” time signature. But then the Dave Brubeck Quartet took a look at old 4/4 and added one to make it 5/4 and to take the jazz world for a spin.
There were cries that Brubeck was tampering with the old jazz formula. Moving into not just 5/4 but 9/8 and 14/4 time signature, this wasn’t jazz anymore (I had to get the time signatures from Wikipedia, my musical theory was never that great). But listening to any of these songs, the quartet can swing. “Blue Rondo À la Turk” mixes up a wild 9/8 time intro from Brubeck to a swinging 4/4 for the whole band, and then the band switches off between the two flawlessly. Dropped jaws abound, even fifty years later (well at least mine did). At waltz tempo, the quartet still puts out smooth saxophone solos, soft piano solos.
As I admitted earlier, I have some trouble recognizing time signatures myself. Listening to the music, I could tell something was different. But the reason the music appealed to me is that it sounds good. I like to think I'm not swayed by gimmicks like turns of musicianship, with Time Out, Brubeck and Desmond made damn sure the songs were there. You hear something in 9/8 and it sounds like crap, it doesn't matter what time signature in, it's bad. But the band makes the songs fun, they're bright, they're moody, they're happy, they're powerful. In Time Out, the Dave Brubeck Quartet plays with equal parts feeling and technicality.
The rhythm section (Eugene Wright and Joe Morello on bass and drums respectively) kept everything jazz, even in the odd time signatures. There’s still the controlled yet assured drumming, the walking bass lines. But it sounds so fresh, even today. At the start of the album’s single, “Take Five,” Morello sets the stage with the 5/4 time signature, followed by Brubeck’s nice moody, cool piano section and then Paul Desmond takes over on alto sax. In the middle, Brubeck holds the melody while Morello does one of the most interesting drum solos I’ve ever heard. It is clear the band is out of their comfort zone, Morello hesitates wondering what to do while Brubeck carries on his odd piano line. I enjoy the hesitation, I can hear the band trying to feel each other out, as though they’re working together to tackle this unfamiliar time signature. The public seemed to like it too, while critics were slamming the quartet for corrupting jazz with their weird music, the single was a hit.
Brubeck takes a commanding position in his quartet, which is certainly welcome. Desmond wrote the big hit of the album (“Take Five”), but Brubeck starts off the album as mentioned before, prepping everyone for the experimental, challenging, and enjoyable music coming ahead. His musicianship shows throughout the whole album, he does a majority of the soloing, but his performance on “Blue Rondo À la Turk” is one hell of an act to follow. His almost classical chording in the bridge is majestic. He does a majority of the soloing in “Kathy’s Waltz,” “Everybody’s Jumpin’” and “Three to Get Ready,” reminding everyone that this is a jazz band with his more traditional style. As a result, the songs are a lot less awe-inspiring, but all still solid efforts.
I consider Time Out a perfect example of jazz: it defies tradition, it pushes the boundaries of what we can do with music, yet in the end it still shows four guys having fun together, like all jazz, like all music should. I can’t tell whether I am happy or not that this still sounds so fresh. On the one hand, it’s fresh because it is still revolutionary. 4/4 is still the standard, it is still what musicians turn to first when writing a song. But on the other hand, Time Out is fresh because behind the revolution, it is still good music. The band explores the new boundaries it has set for itself, but shows everyone that they are still new to them too. Makes for a great record.