Dave Brubeck: Perdido




Dave Brubeck (piano)


Jazz at Oberlin (Fantasy 3245)

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Dave Brubeck (piano), Paul Desmond (alto sax), Ron Crotty (bass), Lloyd Davis (drums).

Composed by Duke Ellington & Juan Tizol


Recorded: Finney Chapel, Oberlin, Ohio, March 2, 1953


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

"This is incredible music, jazz or whatever," a reviewer wrote in Down Beat when Jazz at Oberlin first hit the stores. To which I respond: "Whatever!" and turn up the volume. You are advised to do the same. Brubeck and Desmond recorded live in many settings during the 1950s and 1960s, but this 1953 concert ranks among their finest moments.

An odd dynamic imparted a piquant flavor to the proceedings: the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, founded in 1865, was a magnet for talented instrumentalists, but no jazz was studied within its walls back in 1953. Even Milhaud or Bartok would have been dicey, but bringing Milhaud's eccentric student Mr. Brubeck to campus was close to heresy. Nor were jazz concerts on college campuses common back in this era -- indeed, Brubeck did more than anyone else to pioneer this concept with events such as the Oberlin date. As a result, Brubeck & Co. had an audience packed with aspiring musicians who must have felt they were witnessing some aural samizdat that had somehow been smuggled into Finney Chapel. This serene Romanesque building had once featured Rachmaninov, but now it was "Man, you can't rock enough!"

More than 50 years have elapsed, but you can still pick up the powerful vibes on this recording. The audience is energized and the band feeds off their enthusiasm. Desmond is very loose yet also keyed up, and he stretches out with an electrifying solo. Brubeck follows with a wild improvisation, teasing with bits of polytonality, full of allusions to other standards, sometimes tinkling, more often booming with grandiose two-fisted chords. When Desmond returns to engage in counterpoint with the pianist, the chemistry between the duo is magical.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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