“Time Out” by Dave Brubeck is more than just a jazz album, it is a jazz classic. Recorded during the summer of 1959, it was almost never released by Columbia Records. The album’s blend of unconventional time signatures and lack of standard tunes made company executives doubtful that it could be a success. Luckily, through an intervention by the company president Goddard Lieberson, the album was released, and despite a number of negative reviews initially, it became one of the most popular and well-known jazz albums of all time.
Part of the appeal of “Time Out” is its cool jazz style. This style, as opposed to the hard bop style of the same period, is more calm and places greater emphasis on the composition than on individual solos. “Time Out” does not accost the listener, but instead draws him or her in with the creativity of its compositions and the interplay between the musicians. There is never a time during the album when a musical phrase or note seems out of place – something very difficult to do when working with odd time signatures.
The unconventional time signatures in “Time Out” are what really make the album unique. The first song on the album, the Balkan inspired “Blue Rondo a La Turk” is written in 9/8 time. It begins with Brubeck playing a driving 2-2-2-3 pattern on piano, and expands as he is joined by Eugene Wright on bass, Joe Morello on drums, and finally Paul Desmond on alto saxophone. The composition’s ascending and descending lines give it a boundless energy and a controlled frenetic feel unmatched in any other tune. Perhaps the best part about “Blue Rondo” is the way it juxtaposes the 2-2-2-3 pattern with traditional American blues. Desmond begins the solo section by trading off with the rest of the quartet in the two styles before the band settles in and just starts swing. The composition ends with a restatement of the original theme and a dramatic slowing of the tempo before Morello makes the final statement with a bang of his drums.
The album continues with “Strange Meadow Lark,” a light and mellow tune that is a good complement to Blue Rondo, before reaching the most famous song, “Take Five.” Brubeck is ever-present on this tune with an undulating piano line and Wright’s downward bass line combines with it to give “Take Five” a dark, aggressive feel. Both are supported by light cymbal work from Morello and fit very well under the melody played by Desmond. “Take Five” is highlighted by a fantastic drum solo in the middle which slowly builds on the snare before Morello begins to make use of the rest of his set.
“Three to Get Ready” is a modest waltz which, through its structure, echoes the adage its name is based on. The composition even takes care of the “four to go” part of the adage by switching to 4/4 for a section of the tune.
The fifth song, “Kathy’s Waltz” has a romantic feel and features great solos by Brubeck and Desmond which fit so well within the structure of the song that they seem like they were written right into it.
“Everybody’s Jumpin'” follows, an up-beat tune with the melody played by Desmond and a blues-inspired response from Brubeck.
The album ends with another, more aggressive, tune, “Pick Up Sticks,” which starts with a strong walking base line from Wright and heavy chordal piano from Brubeck. A highlight of the this final tune is the piano solo in which Brubeck expands on just one musical phrase and uses a delay technique to give his chords a bouncing feel. Because of this, the solo stays light, even though the playing is heavy.
With its varied styles and compositional emphasis, “Time Out” makes a great listen for those who think that jazz as a musical genre is not for them. Each tune is accessible to the casual listener as well as the aficionado. As a classic album, it is sure to be available on almost every music service. “Take Five” and discover one of the best jazz albums ever recorded.