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Multnomah Hotel, Portland, Oregon

Multnomah Hotel, Portland, Oregon
 - Multnomah Nights: Ordinary Excellence on the Road

Label: Not Applicable
Year: 1959
Released on LP: No
Released on CD: No

Tracks

April 3, 1959

1. Gone with the Wind 9:33
2. One Moment Worth Years 7:00
3. St. Louis Blues 11:25
4. Swanee River 8:14
5. Lonesome Road 8:25
6. Take the “A” Train 15:41
7. Basin Street Blues 6:48
8. Nomad 9:08
9. Brandenburg Gate 9:33
10. Blues Improvisation 13:05
11. These Foolish Things 14:24
12. Drum Feature 9:05
13. Dziekuje Thank You 6:10
14. I’m in a Dancing Mood 3:08
15. Swanee River 2 10:37

April 4, 1959:

1. Gone with the Wind 11:18
2. Lonesome Road 9:14
3. Swanee River 9:00
4. Take the “A” Train 13:20
5. St. Louis Blues 9:25
6. Basin Street Blues 6:47
7. The Wright Groove 5:05
8. Blues Improvisation 19:21
9. One Moment Worth Years 11:10
10. When the Saints Go Marching In 7:26
11. I’m in a Dancing Mood 3:15
12. Someday My Prince Will Come 9:33
13. Sounds of the Loop 10:57

Personnel

Dave Brubeck (piano)
Paul Desmond (alto sax)
Joe Morello (drums)
Eugene Wright (bass)

Notes

Multnomah Hotel, Portland, Oregon, USA

April 3-4, 1959

Library Of Congress Title/Carrier #: 2292891 (April 3, 1959); 2292850 (April 4, 1959)

Reviews

Multnomah Nights: Ordinary Excellence on the Road

Carnegie Hall. The Royal Concertgebouw. The Berliner Philharmonie. The Hollywood Bowl. One wouldn’t typically mention the Multnomah Hotel in Portland, Oregon in the same breath as those storied musical venues. But, like them, its stage was graced by the classic Brubeck Quartet during its musical heyday.

Hotel Multnomah had its own history and charms. When completed in 1912, the 600-room hotel was the largest and most modern in the Pacific Northwest, covering an entire city block. The 30-foot-high lobby ceilings and crystal chandeliers opulently towered over the presidents, royalty, and celebrities who signed in at “The Palace Beautiful,” as it was styled in its prime. In addition to fine dining, its Arcadia Garden Room also hosted musical entertainment and concerts by visiting stars. By the time the Brubeck Quartet rolled in nearly a half-century later, the aging facility was under renovation, and nearing the end of its first act as a grand hotel. (It would close in 1963, and the historic building would see decades of use as government office space, before its eventual metamorphosis into the Embassy Suites Portland/Downtown in 1997.)

But on two consecutive evenings in early April 1959, the Multnomah was the place where audiences could soak in the improvisations of the classic Brubeck Quartet in a relatively intimate musical venue. (In announcing the intermission before their third and final set on Friday evening, Brubeck appealed to those in attendance: “Stick around. We don’t like to play to empty halls.”) For the Quartet, it was just another stop on their relentless touring schedule, during a regional swing through the Northwest. The following night would find them 10 miles further north, across the Willamette and Columbia Rivers (and the State line), playing to a larger crowd in a Vancouver, Washington auditorium.

The Multnomah shows took place about three weeks before the group headed into the studio in Los Angeles to record Brubeck’s fifth studio album for Columbia, “Gone With the Wind.” Producer Teo Macero’s liner notes on that LP make much of the fact that most of its tracks were captured on the first take. The Multnomah tapes help to explain why. The group had worked most of the LP tracks (except for “Georgia on My Mind” and “Camptown Races”) into its live repertoire, and was energetically hashing them out in front of audiences for weeks beforehand. (On April 3rd, they even played “Swanee River” twice in the same evening.) Indeed, what Macero portrays as some sort of minor studio miracle was actually the Quartet’s standard modus operandi for live performances: “the arrangements you hear were not previously planned, but worked out spontaneously.”

The quality of these workaday performances underscores the extent to which virtuosity was the norm for the classic Quartet. The Multnomah shows were generous, featuring more than two hours of music each night. The Friday show included tracks from the prior “Jazz Impressions of Eurasia” album, and the Saturday show featured a seven-and-a-half minute novelty -- the classic Quartet’s only known recorded performance of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” In addition to compositions from the upcoming LP, both nights included extended blues improvisations, as well as showpieces for Joe Morello’s inspired polyrhythmic explorations.

The tapes reveal brilliant musicians having fun: Dave and Paul sprinkle their solos with playful musical quotations -- from “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” to “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” Approaching the next-to-last song on the final night, Dave faked in one direction – stepping through the chords to “In Your Own Sweet Way” – before abruptly rolling into “Someday My Prince Will Come,” prompting a knowing laugh from Gene Wright, who responded with an assured: “Okay. We alright.” Indeed, they were.

Sound Quality: Wow. These live dates, recorded in stereo on 15 inch-per-second (IPS) reels, were miked and engineered to perfection by the legendary Wally Heider, who also recorded the Quartet the following night, across the border in Washington State. Listening to these recordings on a good pair of headphones is to step back in time to a spring evening in 1959, at a front row table mere feet away from Dave, Paul, Joe, and Gene. The recording fidelity is every bit as good as the best Columbia commercial releases. But the lifelike clarity also may have something to do with why these tapes never saw commercial release: Something in the vicinity of Morello’s kit needed a drop of oil, and a rhythmic squeak makes a sporadic appearance on about half of the songs. While noticeable, it hardly diminishes the excitement of hearing these performances, which sound as fresh as yesterday. [Note: Portions of these shows are incorrectly billed as a “complete concert” and reproduced with poor sonic quality on the “Live in Portland, 1959” bootleg CD, which was sourced from tapes made from a contemporaneous radio broadcast.]

(Text Copyright 2016, Douglas C. Anderson)

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