The Dave Brubeck Quartet is pretty damn wonderful on their third ‘Impressions’ record, released not long after their commercial peak.
If this album isn’t as well-known as monsters like Time Out or At Carnegie Hall I’d argue that it shouldn’t be too far behind. Maybe it’s not a masterpiece of jazz – but it’s an essential Brubeck work and deserves extra attention.
A mostly contemplative set, there’s an ethereal quality to a lot of the pieces. The influence of Japanese scales is skilfully interwoven with more familiar Brubeck fare – this is done most convincingly (to my ears) in the beautiful Koto Song with its subtle cymbal and tom work from Morello, and stand-out performances from Dave and Paul.
In fact, Morello’s wide range of Japanese percussion instruments really add to the Eastern tone of the pieces, ensuring this is one of the quartet’s most satisfying and distinctive records. While it is dominated by quieter moments and relaxed tempos, such as Rising Sun with Desmond’s honeyed alto leading, or the mournful Fujiyama (see below), there is some snap to the album too. Opener Tokyo Traffic is quite jaunty and reflects the busy city, as does Toki’s Theme – the song that probably has the most fun on the album.
There are no missteps here; Dave Brubeck soaked up the feel of urban and pastoral Japan while on tour and returned to New York to blend it with Cool Jazz in what is easily one of the Quartet’s best.
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