"The Dave Brubeck Quartet At Carnegie Hall" Issued on Double 180g Vinyl

By the time the "classic" Dave Brubeck Quartet arrived at Carnegie Hall on February 22nd, 1963 it had "practiced, practiced, practiced" as the old joke goes. The quartet of Brubeck, drummer Joe Morello, bassist Eugene Wright and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond was a well-oiled music making machine.

It was also the world's most popular and well-known jazz ensemble, having toured the world for the State Department and released numerous big selling albums such as Time Out, which sold well in excess of a million copies.

Brubeck had been on the cover of Time Magazine in 1954, which he found somewhat embarrassing since he was there but Duke Ellington was not. Brubeck's discography was already extensive by the time this live recording was issued on vinyl in 1963.

No wonder the concert sold out despite an ongoing newspaper strike that almost caused the promoters to cancel it.

The full house was treated to an exceptionally fine concert, one Brubeck thought was among the group's best, according to the liner notes written by New York Herald Tribune jazz commentator George T. Simon, who sat with Brubeck listening to tape playback.

These guys had played together for so long that a casual listen reveals nothing musically startling or exceptional, probably because they make it sound so easy. Brubeck's comments put that idea to rest, though you can just listen and enjoy minus the genuinely fascinating analysis.

Brubeck's jazz snob detractors are many but why let them spoil the pleasures to be found here? The solos by Morello, Desmond and Wright and more importantly the overall quartet flow make this live set a breezy, musical pleasure despite a bit too much back catalog advertising by Brubeck between tunes. Brubeck sounds as if he patterned his patter after the MJQ's John Lewis and like the MJQ, despite the outward appearance of set performances, Brubeck's quartet was constantly improvising

Many people dismissive of Brubeck's talents forget that he suffered considerable nerve damage early in his career from a surfing accident that caused him to switch from single note complexity to block chording, though here he does produce some dazzling single note runs. Listen to his first solo on "Bossa Nova U.S.A" (a hit single for the group, here extended to allow all to improvise on the tune).

Not to sound like a jazz snob, but Desmond's, Morello's and Wright's solos are consistently more interesting to listen to than are Brubeck's who does his best work comping and supporting the others. By comparison, while their solos flow subtly, Brubeck's often sound clunky or like Ellington playing with a ball peen hammer. Listen to his solo on "For All We Know" and tell me if you can disagree, though the notes themselves are interesting.

The twelve song set includes standards and crowd pleasers like "It's a Raggy Waltz", "Blue Rondo A La Turk" and the obligatory encore "Take Five." The note from producer Teo Macero states that there's not a single musical edit on the records, though the song order was rearranged somewhat to fit the LP format and applause was shortened for better fit and flow.

Some live recordings at Carnegie Hall treat the audience applause as seriously as the music in order to help create the "you are there" feel. It's not critical but it can add to the illusion. That's not the case here, where the applause sounds AM radio boxy, so don't expect The Weavers Reunion.... type verisimilitude!

More importantly, the instruments themselves are reasonably well recorded and placed within a suitably reverberant Carnegie Hall environment, though the perspective is close-up, which doesn't always match well with the amount of hall sound behind and around the instruments..

Brubeck is placed stage left (right channel) in fine focus, Morello on the opposite side, with Wright and Desmond center stage, Desmond well out in front, though that's not quite the stage layout based on the gatefold jacket photos. However, for the sake of a recording, that layout makes sense (the photos show Brubeck center stage and Morello stage left). Overall, this is a fairly well recorded Carnegie Hall set, but don't expect "you are there" magical sonics. Brubeck's piano is very well-recorded, however, and free of major boxy colorations.

Comparing this Speakers Corner reissue to an original black "360 Sound" 1A pressing favors the original, of course, which is more open and extended on top and allows the reverberant field to more fully flow and express itself. The Speakers Corner reissue is somewhat darker and veiled by comparison but without the original to compare it to, it's decent and very "analogue-y" sounding. And of course the Pallas pressing quality is superb. My used original gets "crunchy" in spots.

P.S.: The very first live concert I ever attended was The Dave Brubeck Quartet at Town Hall, NYC, probably a year before this was recorded. I felt like an adult for the first time in my life, though I soon regressed to infantile adolescent behavior, where I've happily remained ever since.

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COMMENTS
gubarenko's picture

Is there any definitive info from what it was cut? Since Speakers Corner not always cut from original tapes.

Michael Fremer's picture

Speakers Corner does its best to get good analog tapes: originals or original tape copies produced when the recording was first issued. That's why some of its reissues are cut in America by Kevin Gray and others are cut in Germany from tape copies held by European content licensees. 

I doubt they had the original Columbia tape here but rather a copy made in 1963 and stored in the European vaults. Just a guess.

Sometimes diligence gets you into trouble as on Speakers Corner's Michel LeGrand/Miles Davis reissue where they tracked down what they were told by LeGrand's manager to be THE  stereo master tape but which turned out to be an electronically reprocessed for stereo mono tape. 

SC's mistake was not paying more attention to a test pressing!

That said, the label is among the more responsible reissue labels....

John G's picture

Michael,

Thanks for the review, one of the reasons I like visiting your site.  I found a nice white 360 pressing of this a few years ago.  Spinning it now, essential Jazz record that should be in everyone's collection.

Best, John

Paul Boudreau's picture

"Not to sound like a jazz snob, but Desmond's, Morello's and Wright's solos are consistently more interesting to listen to than are Brubeck's who does his best work comping and supporting the others. By comparison, while their solos flow subtly, Brubeck's often sound clunky or like Ellington playing with a ball peen hammer."

A perfect description.  I go for the Paul Desmond myself, although songs like "Softly, William, Softly" from "Time In" (1966) show Dave B. at his best, in my opinion.

I didn't know about the nerve damage - interesting.

mrrobivan's picture

I enjoyed reading your comments about this recording. Oddly enough, I have had side 4 of this set on my turntable for a couple of days now (I only get about 30-45 minutes a day to play vinyl--so sad), and I just can't put it away and move on to something else. One of the nice side effects of Brubeck's popularity is that it is not too hard to find nice "360 Sound" 1A pressings. I highly recommend tracking one of these down to all your readers.

Nikkodull's picture

Michael, can you inform us where Speakers Corner reissues are pressed? They sound almost always very good but info is lacking on the stickers. I understand this Brubeck reissue is pressed at Pallas but what about the orhers? txs

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