Jazz at the College of the Pacific, Vol. 2

COMPOSERS: Dave Brubeck
LABELS: Fantasy
PERFORMER: Dave Brubeck
CATALOGUE NO: OJCCD 1076-2

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DAVE BRUBECK, like Kenton, was – as far as the general public was concerned – one of the most famous musicians of the Fifties and Sixties (quite probably the most famous after appearing on the cover of Time magazine, the first jazz musician to do so).

Brubeck has said that he believes his early albums contain the best work from his famous sideman, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Indeed, classic albums like Jazz at Oberlin and Jazz at the College of the Pacific bear this out. Until now, this latter disc was thought to represent the whole concert, but it now transpires that this was only the first half. Amazingly, the rest has remained unreleased until now, but its unexpected appearance as Vol. 2 proves every bit as riveting as its predecessor.

Recorded 50 years ago, the disc demonstrates how Desmond was one of the very few alto players who escaped the spell of Charlie Parker; he was an original and rare improviser whose playing was wholly his own, his style subservient only to the broadest of categories: cool.

Yet on this album his playing is often also excitingly hot, a rare departure for a player whose unbuttoned side was kept under wraps. His intonation was perfect, his sound remarkably even through the three octaves of the alto saxophone, often abruptly switching between one octave and another, answering, paraphrasing and commenting on his solos in different registers of the instrument.

Among many examples of his style, ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, ‘How High the Moon’ and ‘Crazy Rhythm’ stand out. Brubeck’s piano solos still sound resolutely ‘modern’, no mean achievement this long after the event – and on numbers such as ‘Give a Little Whistle’ or ‘Stardust’ he can be mischievously polytonal or robustly polyrhythmical, while his teasing contrapuntal lines and extended harmonies are as mesmeric today as when they entranced the student audience back in 1953.

Also included is a Brubeck piano solo dating from 1942, where, as a 21-year-old music student, he already demonstrated a phenomenal technique that evoked Art Tatum with dazzling runs and harmonic ingenuity, and puts a new perspective on received jazz history.

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Young musicians doing something quite different, and more importantly significant, outside the mainstream of jazz, in the way Kenton and Brubeck managed in their heyday, are few and far between in today’s jazz scene.