The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Time OutColumbia/Analogue Productions CAPJ 8192 SA
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

Musical Performance: *****
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: *****

Few jazz recordings from the LP era have enjoyed the enduring popularity of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out. A brisk seller when released in 1959, it has remained in print ever since, and sold enough copies to be certified platinum. That was a great year for jazz -- Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and Charles Mingus’s Mingus Ah Um were also released in 1959. All three were produced by Teo Macero, engineered by Fred Plaut, and released by Columbia Records.

Plaut’s name appears on many of Columbia’s jazz and classical titles, and his consistency and excellence were remarkable. I use LP and CD editions of Masterpieces by Ellington, to name just one example of his work, as a reference recording. Time Out is another recording I play to remind myself how music should sound through my system.

For this review I compared Analogue Productions’ new reissue of Time Out on SACD/CD with a Columbia/Legacy multichannel SACD/CD, Columbia’s first CD release from 1987, and a Classic Records 200gm LP from a few years back.

The multichannel tracks of the Analogue Productions SACD are the same as those on the Columbia/Legacy disc. "The Multichannel program was not remixed or remastered," Analogue Productions notes on its website. "Please understand that our focus and interest is on making the best sounding two-channel layer possible." That may be the case, but I thought I detected more snap and clarity in AP’s edition. The rear channels add some room ambience that helps to create a feeling of three-dimensional space that seemed easier to hear with the AP disc. Was it my imagination, or stricter quality control in manufacturing?

Comparing the high-resolution two-channel layers of both discs, the immediate difference I heard was a bit more tape hiss on the AP. I could also hear more definition everywhere. Brubeck’s piano is more dramatic and open in "Blue Rondo à la Turk," and Joe Morello’s cymbal accents have more tonal clarity. Eugene Wright’s bass is more full and present, and there are more texture and breath behind Paul Desmond’s alto sax.

Joe Morello’s drum solo in the title track is a good measure for me to show how well the album is mastered, and on this disc his kick drum punches out clearly and his snare shots ring across the soundstage more resolutely than on the Columbia/Legacy disc, where the solo also has less dynamic range, with Morello thumping right out of the gate. The care he takes in building his solo with kick drum and snare accents isn’t as easy to hear as on the AP disc. And Brubeck’s accompanying, whether behind Morello or Desmond, has more harmonic depth in this new remastering.

It was not a surprise that the Analogue Productions edition of Time Out has many of the sonic characteristics of the Classic Records pressing: Bernie Grundman mastered both. The LP has many of the things I expect from vinyl: Wright’s bass has more heft, and the position on the soundstage of each of Morello’s drums is slightly easier to visualize. His brushstrokes on the snare in "Three to Get Ready" have a little more authority on the LP, and Brubeck’s piano in "Kathy’s Waltz" sounds slightly more resonant. Overall, however, I found the differences to be minimal, and the two-channel SACD to be every bit as enjoyable as the LP. The 1987 Columbia CD, however, sounds dull and lifeless -- like standing in the hallway outside the recording studio.

Brubeck’s quartet recorded many great albums for Columbia, including Jazz: Red Hot and Cool (1955) and Time Further Out (1961). I’d like to see those from Analogue Productions, as well as many of the other recordings Fred Plaut engineered. Time Out is a good place to start.

. . . Joseph Taylor