Are you wondering where Paul Desmond is? So was Dave Brubeck when this concert was taking place. When it was time for the pianist’s celebrated quartet to leave Hamburg and head to Vienna on the morning of November 11, 1967, their alto saxophonist was nowhere to be found. Desmond reunited with his bandmates two days later in France (for a performance that was recorded and released in 1968 as The Last Time We Saw Paris), but his absence during that brief gap put this unintended trio in play.
With the shift in band dynamics feeding Brubeck, bassist Eugene Wright, and drummer Joe Morello a different kind of energy, all three found joy in opened space(s). Their “St. Louis Blues” starter signals that embrace of new freedom. Brubeck stretches out with a charged stand, Wright regales the audience with his weight and wit, and Morello delivers a snare-centric salvo that shows he means business. The trio downshifts a tad for “One Moment Worth Years”—the leader’s tribute to Fats Waller and the lone original on the album—but there’s still a spring in its collective step.
The four numbers that follow offer riches of several sorts. There’s a flag-waving “Swanee River,” a classic set on swinging for the fences; a charming glide through Mexican folk favorite “La Paloma Azul”; the enthusiastically received “Someday My Prince Will Come,” offering heightened tension as Brubeck pits time against time; and an Ellingtonian express of a closer in “Take the A Train,” where the pianist and his drummer triumph in trading. If the unspoken order of the day was for these three men to show their mettle in the absence of Desmond, they clearly accomplished the mission.