Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz Goes to College [Columbia, 1989]
Released in 1954, Brubeck's first album for Columbia--he'd done plenty for Fantasy, including several also recorded at colleges--is my favorite, and while there are many I haven't heard, I've put in enough hours to advise against anything with an orchestra or without Paul Desmond. This one comes with extra jam mostly because the recent substitution of drummer Joe Dodge spurred Brubeck to wing two key tracks, "Balcony Rock" and "Le Souk." Its title bestowed by a&r man George Avakian just as the rock 'n' roll fad was learning its name, "Balcony Rock" is that doubly rare thing in Brubeck's oeuvre, a blues jam, and although Brubeck is oft praised for his classical touch, the block chords of his solo bump rather than arpeggiate, which many young folks preferred even in 1954. Desmond's harmonies impart a Middle Eastern tinge to "Le Souk," which Brubeck revs to a nice runaway feel, but on the standards that fill out the set the Apollonian alto saxophonist is at his lyrical best. Note too the memorable "Take the A Train," built around yet another blocky Brubeck solo. In rhythm music, blocky generally beats tinkly. Just ask Neil Young. A