The Very Best of Dave Brubeck: The Fantasy Era
Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2012, by Greg Barbrick

The Concord Music Group have been releasing some interesting jazz collections lately, under it’s Very Best of series. The first five came out a couple of months ago, and featured Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Sonny Rollins and Wes Montgomery. The second edition of the series has just been released, and spotlights Cannonball Adderley, The Bill Evans Trio, Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, and Thelonious Monk.

The key to these collections is that they were all recorded for the Fantasy and Riverside labels, during the 50s and early '60s. For this listener, the only other competition for classic “beatnik" jazz was Columbia. They released two of the most influential jazz albums ever with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, which were both released in 1959.

Davis and Brubeck were with Fantasy before Columbia though. As mentioned, the Miles collection was part of the first group of The Very Best of. This time Brubeck gets the nod. The full title is The Very Best of Dave Brubeck: The Fantasy Era 1949-1953. Even though this series is budget priced, Concord did not skimp on creating an enticing package. This single-CD contains a total of 15 tracks, from seven different albums.

I like the opening line from writer Neil Tesser in the accompanying booklet: “As the title says, this collection presents the music of Dave Brubeck - but before he became “Dave Brubeck." I think fans know what Tesser means here. Brubeck became “Brubeck" with his later experiments with time signatures, of which Time Out is certainly the most famous.

It seems a little ridiculous now, but when Brubeck started out he had a couple of strikes against him. For one thing, he was white. He was also very proudly West Coast, which certainly went against the New York mind-set of the time. And he made no bones about playing what came to be called “cool" jazz. His approach to the piano, and his arrangements were considered more “intellectual" than the swinging, improvisational styles of other players. To employ a rather obvious pun, time would prove his methods to be just as valid as those of anyone else.

The first four tracks were from the Dave Brubeck trio, which included Ron Crotty (bass) and Cal Tjader (drums). In the beginning, Brubeck was partial to standards, especially those of Rodgers and Hart. Of the 15 tracks, only one is credited to Dave Brubeck. His music really came into its own with the addition of one of the most underrated saxophonists of all time though, Paul Desmond. The two of them worked wonders together, and Desmond appears on the remaining 11 songs.

Paul Desmond was an integral part of the Dave Brubeck Quartet from 1951 to 1967, and the music they made together on Fantasy, (and later Columbia) was brilliant. All of these Very Best of sets work as great samplers of each artist, and I imagine the hope is that fans will spring for some of the full albums represented. The Dave Brubeck Quartet pioneered the idea of playing concerts at colleges. The 6:33 version of “Stardust" from Jazz at Oberlin is pretty great, and if I were to choose one album of the seven that this compilation draws from, it would be Jazz at Oberlin. It is an excellent concert through and through.