The Dave Brubeck Quartet “Time Out”

A “360 Sound” 1959 recording that sounds incredibly modern!

[Italian version here]

Author: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Published: March, 2023

[The Dave Brubeck Quartet's Time Out]

Even if you're not into jazz you surely know Dave Brubeck Quartet's “Take Five”, a track which has been widely used for jingles, ads, and covered by many artists worldwide since 1959. It quickly became the biggest-selling jazz single of all time and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1996. In other words, everybody knows it! It bears its name after the weird 5/4 meter, as per request of Joe Morello, the quartet's drummer. What not everyone knows is that the track has been actually written by Paul Desmond, he composed the melodies on Morello's rhythms and Brubeck arranged the song.

The track was contained in the album “Time Out” released, both in mono and stereo versions, by Columbia in 1959. The stereo edition featured the famous - should I say notorious? - 360 Sound recording technique, a sort of enhanced stereo, where instruments were closely miked and then the ambience of the recording hall was carefully picked up by other mikes, in order to create a “larger than life” soundscape. Extreme care was taken to ensure the sound quality of the recording had to be outstanding.

There are various remasters of the original 1959 recording, some swear the original LP sounds the best, others that the SACD edition is vastly better, others swear by the Ultra HD 32-Bit Mastering CD. Of course you can find also Hi-Res DSD files, 24/192 PCM files etc. I'm going to suggest you not to waste your money on fancy and expensive releases/remasters and to buy the original 1997 Sony (Columbia/Legacy) 20-bit CD remaster (CK 65122) instead. It can be found for much less than 10€/$. Actually, though not mentioned on the CD case, the recording is a HDCD one. The Reissue Producer is Russell Gloyd, while the remastering engineer is Mark Wilder. Recently, Mark was honored as a recipient of the dCS Legends award for excellence in Music Production.

Trust me, you wouldn't believe you're listening to a 1959 recording! Yes, there's some tape hiss in the background, but when the music begins, you can easily forget about it. And yes, perhaps the piano remains a bit in the background, with respect to the bass, the drums and the alto saxophone but, hey!, this is a damn good sounding recording! Not perfect, but extremely entertaining, groovy and lively.

It's highly dynamic (listen to the drum solo in “Take Five”, for example) and with a wide frequency spectrum, from the lower bass to the sparkling highs. It is so good that I still use it during my listening tests.

Then there's the famous/infamous 360 Sound, with its added spaciousness and the strange stereo reproduction: the drum kit, for example, has been mainly recorded on the left channel, the piano on the right one, the alto saxophone is somewhere in the middle (though it slightly changes position depending on tracks), with the bass slightly behind. In the early days of stereo, this was common practice, because the novelty of having two different channels had to be exploited to its max, in order to produce some kind of spectacular effect.

One can't easily forget the horrible ping-pong left-right effects of certain pop/disco records. This recording doesn't have any ping-pong effect, but the instruments appear unnaturally placed in the two channels. The result is a strange soundstage, that you certainly don't expect when listening to a jazz quartet. This bizarre effect notwithstanding, the album is a real gem, even by today's standards. Needless to say that, musically, it is a must-have even if you're not a jazz fan. Play it absolutely loud, because the level of distortion of this recording is very low and the music is so groovy.

It has been said that certain 360 Sound recordings of the Fifties and the Sixties were made using a full-tube recording chain, while others with full solid-state components. It seems this can be detected by the use of the number of the typical Columbia “eyes” in the album cover: six eyes should mean the recording chain was full-tubed, but this is not 100% sure. “Time Out” doesn't display the six eyes, so it should be a fully solid-state recording, but I simply don't care, as long as its sound quality is this high.

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