…a great album in truly spectacular sound from a group at the height of its powers’

Brubeck Editions

Dave Brubeck (piano); Paul Desmond (alto saxophone); Eugene Wright (bass); Joe Morello (drums)

Recorded on April 4, 1959 at the Multnomah Hotel in Portland and on April 5th in the auditorium at nearby Clark College.

Let me start this review by drawing your attention to Wally Heider.  Heider is not widely known but he does contribute a great deal to this album.  The recording is very successful, making this probably the best recorded ‘live’ Brubeck album.  It was an early Heider recording, he would take his Ampex 350-2 in his truck and set up.  Eventually, his remote recordings captured the Beatles, Ray Charles, Jefferson Airplane, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, the Grateful Dead.  His best-known jazz recordings are the ones that he did for Stan Kenton and Count Basie.  The big band recordings are stunning, capturing the intricate dynamics of a large group.  Like all great recordings the work captures and enhances the music.

With this Brubeck album, Heider shows the beauty of Paul Desmond’s tone, the sonority and subtlety of Eugene Wright’s bass and the beauty of Joe Morello’s brushwork, especially  the ring of the cymbals.  The separation of the instruments is crucial.

We are so used to ‘discovered’ recordings being swathed in aural sludge so that allowances have to be made. No allowances here, the recording has a vibrant, zestful clarity.

‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ is a first.  It is the only known recording of this old warhorse by the Quartet. Brubeck is more easy going than usual, a lighter touch.  Paul Desmond is his elegant self. playing the alto with an ease that is deceptive.  His improvisations on this, and the subsequent pieces, suggest that it is all so easy.  It wasn’t His skill and facility were hard won.  Towards the end of the piece Brubeck and Desmond engage in a duet that is both Bach like and delightful.  It is the kind of playing that delighted college audiences.

‘Basin Street Blues’ is one of those pieces where the solos hit the sweet spot, everything goes right.  It is difficult not be impressed by Paul Desmond’s constant creativity and lyricism.  Brubeck can often seem as though he is pounding the piano to root out his inspiration but not here: he is inspired.

Eugene Wright solos on ‘These Foolish Things’ but the track belongs to Desmond.  The reworking, recomposing, of the tune and the thought-through extensions are mesmerising. ‘Gone with the Wind’ gives an opportunity to enjoy the subtle brushwork of Joe Morello as he supports both Desmond and Brubeck. Morello switches to sticks for ‘The Multnomah Blues’.  Named after the venue, this was obviously thought out for the occasion and Desmond unspools his thoughts before Brubeck, developing his own thoughts, builds slowly.  He is anchored firmly by Morello.  Brubeck reaches a resolution and hands over to Morello before engaging in an intricate duet with Desmond to finish the piece.

‘Two Part Contention’ starts and finishes with another duet, illustrating the musical synergy of the group.  It is the longest track on the album. The piece started life on Brubeck Plays Brubeck in 1956. Here there are changes of tempo and Brubeck’s solo resists block chords and is almost as lyrical as Desmond’s. Eugene Wright’s intricate contributions are an essential part.

This is a great album in truly spectacular sound from a group at the height of its powers.The quartet proved that there was a large audience for jazz that had a veneer of classical tropes mixed with sophisticated jazz roots.