Unsquare Dance

By way of a small postscript to last week’s post about the great Joe Morello, here’s a piece that shows he was such a great drummer he didn’t even need a drum!

Dave Brubeck’s tune Unsquare Dance is basically a blues built around a single bass figure and played in 7/4 time, making it not inconsiderably difficult to dance to. Difficult, but not impossible! On top of that the tempo actually speeds up during this performance. It’s normally a cardinal sin for a rhythm section in jazz to speed up – the beat has to stay rock steady while the soloists push ahead or lag behind. That’s what generates the sort of dynamic tension that characterizes as swinging performance. In this tune Dave Brubeck was just playing a little joke on the `foot-tappers and finger-snappers’ so he can be forgiven for his trangression.

Listen out, though, for Joe Morello’s contribution. His solo consists entirely of rim shots (made by striking the rim rather than the skin of a snare drum). I believe it is Joe Morello who laughs out loud at the end, partly with relief that they managed to get through this tricky little piece without screwing up!

As you can see, this was released as a 45rpm single and it became quite a hit (by the standards of Jazz records), reaching No. 14 in the UK charts back in 1962.

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6 Responses to “Unsquare Dance”

  1. have you seen this wonderful music video of it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yExwkQYcp0

  2. That reminds me how a very long time ago I used to wonder if Bartok was having us on with those 6 dances in Mikrokosmos, or if not how people actually danced to those rhythms. Well, here’s how (from around 18 mins):

    You can also hear people in Greece singing in 7/4 or 5/4 rhythm if you go to the right places. It hasn’t all been stifled by pop music.Not yet anyway.

    • Depends on the definition of “pop” music. Certainly many modern beat combos feature a variety of time signatures. Jethro Tull had a hit with “Living in the past”, which is in 5/4. Cream’s “White Room” (one of the best rock songs ever—guitar, bass, drums, vocals, lyrics—all absolutely top-notch) is partially in 5/4. Pink Floyd’s “Money” and Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” are in 7/4. I think there is a Dixie Dregs song in 25/16. 🙂 “Tam Lin” (a traditional ballad) as recorded by Fairport Convention is in 13/4. Iron Maiden also have a song in 13/4 IIRC.

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