Dave Brubeck: On the Alamo


On the Alamo


Dave Brubeck (piano)


Dave Brubeck at Storyville 1954 (Fresh Sound FSR-CD 414)

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Dave Brubeck (piano), Paul Desmond (alto sax), Ron Crotty (bass), Joe Dodge (drums).

Composed by Isham Jones


Recorded: live at Storyville, Boston, MA, January 18, 1954


Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

The classic Dave Brubeck Quartet didn't actually come together until 1957. Before that, Dave and Paul Desmond enjoyed a revolving-door cast of drummers and bass men. At first, the fledgling quartet's reputation was built on, and nourished by, live performances, recorded at one college after another. But the Storyville club in Boston became another rich source – a place where the lead two could experiment more – and a terrific album came out on Columbia in 1954, announced by a clever fake newspaper printed on front and back covers. One main headline read, "'Alamo's My Best,' says Brubeck," and I wouldn't think of arguing with the indomitable pianist; it's certainly a definitive performance.

Previously waxed by bandleaders Isham Jones and both Dorseys, "On the Alamo," positioned as leadoff track, offers a near-perfect example of Wild West Dave pummeling a tune and a club piano, pounding both down but not out or flat. Remember that original Alamo? Stone walls demolished by cannon fire, Crockett & Bowie and the rest shown no mercy? Dave, Paul, Ron and Joe mount the attack this time, and they are definitely on this "Alamo." Crotty and Dodge hold a rocking treadmill pace (strict time was all that Dave required of his early rhythm guys), while Desmond soars above the walls, reconnoitering like a strange meadowlark for a couple of minutes before retreating in the face of what slowly becomes Brubeck's relentless barrage. Dave alternates between lyrical and heavy-weighted, riding on the rhythm at times and radically across it at others – hanging back, speeding up, striking single notes or block chords, staying harmonic, then striding into atonal territory, mixing the melody in with Monkish stomps and Classical Modernist chords, shaping a 6-minute take-no-prisoners solo completely reflective of his unique, love-it-or-hate-him, keyboard-as-drum-kit approach. This locked-hands mélange of Manne and Milhaud, Jeru and Jamal, Bach and Bartok (and bar backtalk too) was the pre-Time signature of Brubeck the no-BeBop, no-Powell nonpareil. (The track then ends peacefully with some fine Brubeck/Desmond counterpoint.)

Dave mellowed much over the many years; he focused more on composing, rounded off the rough corners and edges of his style, wound up playing more all-of-a-piece solos. Me, I miss the early iconoclast of the keyboard and am thankful he left us this "Alamo" worth remembering.

Reviewer: Ed Leimbacher

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