Though dissed by jazz's critical establishment for the unforgivable crime of popularity, pianist/composer Dave Brubeck's Quartet remains one of the pivotal bands in the music's history. The DBQ is the most famous and successful exponent of one of the most maligned movements in the genre, known alternately as the "West Coast sound" and "the Cool School" -- scorned because of the emerging racial divide in 1950s jazz (some West Coast Cool cats were, like, white) and because, as with hip hop, there was a coastal schism. Further, while demonstrative East Coast (and predominantly African-American) hard bop raged, Brubeck's approach was marked by deceptively light lyricism and brainy, witty urbanity. His style, derided by some as heavy-handed, was a precursor to that of the heavily percussive, freer key-crackers of the '60s (Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner). As a composer, Brubeck was one of the first to consciously (and subtly) incorporate influences from non-Western cultures. Alto saxophonist and frequent DBQ composer Paul Desmond had a lithe, sleek, blues-informed tone that was martini-dry (as it was then called) when most altoists were under the sway of Charlie Parker. Drummer Joe Morello employed crisp polyrhythms (literally, more than one rhythm at once) long before it became commonplace; Eugene Wright played rock-solid, buoyant bass. Brubeck -- who studied at Mills College in Oakland -- achieved worldwide popularity and produced a durable body of work, his compositions covered by such luminaries as Miles Davis, avant-jazz icon Anthony Braxton (who also recorded with Brubeck), fellow Stockton residents Pavement, and prog-rock kings Emerson, Lake & Palmer. What's more, his group actually had a radio hit
, 1959's "Take Five," and Brubeck still cuts the mustard today.
The For All Time box comprises digitally remastered versions (plus bonus tracks) of the five Columbia albums from 1959 to 1965 known as the "Time" series not only for their titles (Time Out, Time Changes, et al. ), but also for their atypical time signatures, sometimes inspired by ethnic rhythms and scales. While jazz generally swung with a 4/4 (or 3/4 waltz time) beat, Brubeck "swang" it in 7/4 or 9/8, the most famous archetypes being the aforementioned "Take Five" and the stirring, Turkish-influenced "Blue Rondo a la Turk." The joys here are many and varied: the orchestral-classical fusion of "Elementals"; the sly, wry "Watusi Drums"; the plaintive, Lonely Avenue sound of "Blue Shadows in the Street." FAT is a superlative collection of American music, attesting that creativity and accessibility aren't mutually exclusive.