New albums of old music have become a major category for the economically challenged jazz record industry. The TCB label’s “Swiss Radio Days” series is now up to 42 volumes. The previously unissued material comes from concerts in Switzerland, mostly by famous Americans, recorded between 1946 and 1978 for radio broadcasts.
With archival releases, it is all about the package. The great archival labels (Mosaic, Sony Legacy, Resonance) provide optimized sound, copious photographs and comprehensive documentation. They place a recording profoundly in its place and time. TCB packages provide minimal background and context for particular concerts. Yvan Ischer’s liner notes for Zurich 1964 contain general biographical riffs on the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet. TCB’s important strength is sound. This live monophonic recording puts the music in a believable large acoustic space, Kongresshaus in Zurich.
The true purpose of archival releases is time travel; it is great fun to go back to this band again, even if Brubeck constantly reminds you why several generations of critics have bitched about his bombast. Even on “Audrey,” perhaps the most ethereal minor blues ever conceived by a jazz musician (the tune is named for Audrey Hepburn, whom its writer, Paul Desmond, worshipped from afar), Brubeck hammers block chords. The first “Audrey,” on Brubeck Time in 1955, was under four minutes. This one is 10:33 and you wish it were 20. Desmond was the Pied Piper. The languid smear of his alto saxophone is somehow both spiritual and sensual. He slides into “You Go to My Head” so suggestively it’s as if you are eavesdropping on his erotic dream. Almost 40 percent of the 11-minute “Take Five”—how many times had they played it by then? 400? 600?—is a vast, sly, nuanced Joe Morello drum solo.
Ischer’s notes contain a touching story. Desmond died without knowing that Audrey Hepburn loved “Audrey.” She used to walk in her garden and listen to it on headphones.