Home / Album Reviews / Dave Brubeck Quartet, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Tito Puente
Monday, July 6, 2009

Dave Brubeck Quartet, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Tito Puente

Time Out (Columbia Legacy), Sketches of Spain (Columbia Legacy), Mingus Ah Um (Columbia Legacy), Dance Mania (RCA Legacy)

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The late 1950s and early '60s was a wonderful time for jazz. Arguably, the music had never before been as expansive or expressive and has never since reached such levels. For evidence: a parcel of Legacy CD reissues by major artists, the original albums augmented by additional discs containing alternate versions, concert recordings and other material from the era.

Commercially, the biggest success among them was Dave Brubeck's Time Out, which even launched a single into the Top-100 in 1959, "Take Five." The pianist and his partner, saxophonist Paul Desmond, exemplified the era's cool movement for coupling jazz with classical structure and emotional restraint. Although Brubeck was the group's principal composer, Desmond wrote "Take Five," whose odd time signature seeped into TV scores and British rock in the '60s and '70s.

During the '50s, many jazz musicians were exploring music from elsewhere on Earth. On Time Out, Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" played with Eastern tones. That same year, trumpeter Miles Davis looked toward Iberia with Sketches of Spain. Collaborating with arranger-conductor Gil Evans, Davis painted a shimmering, Impressionist soundscape in warm hues of subdued drama. But even amid an orchestra, Davis' horn sounded as lonesome as a single tree in a bare field, swaying on a gentle breeze.

Bassist Charles Mingus was among the most ambitious jazz composers. The scope of his bluesy, orchestrated funk rivaled that of Duke Ellington. Mingus Ah Um consists of a pair of his 1959 LPs, together with alternate takes from those sessions. Collectors should know that all of this material plus three additional takes were released on a 1998 Legacy set, The Complete 1959 Recordings.

Many jazz musicians were playing with fiery Latin rhythms in those years, and Latino musicians were happy to show them the way. A Puerto Rican from Spanish Harlem, Tito Puente led a percussive big band in the '50s and '60s. His torrid beat and hot, short solos can be heard on Dance Mania, which assembles his recordings of mambo, a Latin dance sensation that matched rock 'n' roll on the hit parade for a few brief years in the '50s.

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