Upon its release in the final month of the 1950s, ‘Time Out’ by The Dave Brubeck Quartet immediately changed Jazz, and all of Western music. The mixed race band had developed significant popularity throughout the United States, though they continued to face opposition and hatred when touring, facing frequent demands to replace bass player Eugene Wright with a white musician. The result was Brubeck cancelling gigs when tensions arose when trying to play in racially segregated areas of the US.
Under this climate, the band had succeeded in becoming a talisman for racial unity, seeing them sponsored by the US Department of State to take on a world tour. Traveling through countries such as Poland, Pakistan and Turkey, Brubeck found inspiration in the Folk music of local musicians. On the bands’ return, they set to work recording an album that intentionally strayed away from the standard time signatures of 3/4 and 4/4 commonly found in Jazz.
The album begins with the Turkish-inspired ‘Blue Rondo a La Turk’, which develops in 9/8 time, broken into a left field 2-2-2-3 pattern, before bringing in an alternating 4/4 signature to highlight the contrast further. Soon enough we’re introduced to the now ubiquitous ‘Take Five’ with its forceful 5/4 structure that turned Jazz on its head before becoming a standard in its own right. As keys and bass roll a constant and insistent vamp throughout we find the basis of many a Lounge Pop track to come over the ensuing six decades. More interestingly, that locked in keys and bass groove coupled with the initial drum breakdown as percussionist Joe Morello begins drawing out the pattern, accentuating it, before tumbling it around resonates through the work of every Hip Hop beatmaker who ever aimed for the outer-reaches, from Dilla to Madlib and beyond.
Released the same year as Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ (which went on to become the biggest selling Jazz album of all time), ‘Time Out’ was initially the more popular record, becoming the first Jazz album to shift a million units. While ‘Time Out’ was not exactly a party record, its upbeat tempos hold a far more enthusiastic tone than Davis’ masterwork. They play as interesting counterpoints to each other, yet Davis’ follow up work ‘Sketches of Spain’ with its Flamenco-inspired rhythms, is a more interesting comparative. Between them, the two albums would bust down the door for where influences could be pulled from, forever changing the trajectory of Jazz, Pop and, in time, the nascent Rock scene.
That it took a white bandleader to be afforded the opportunity to draw from other non-Blues forms of Black music was, and still is, an indictment on the music industry. The Dave Brubeck Quartet were contractually obligated to release an album of standards before Columbia Records agreed to release this album, and its success was initially doubted. That it was followed within months by Davis’ ‘Sketches of Spain’ no doubt helped ingrain its new found exploration of alternate meters and rhythms in musical practice. Rather than becoming an outlier, ‘Time Out’ helped forge a new direction in music; one that marched to a vibrant new beat that was inclusive and outward looking, willing to learn from other cultures and make new rather than regurgitate and pass off as its own. It is rightly a classic, and one you should not miss.