Written by Brubeck's saxophonist Paul Desmond, the immediately recognizable "Take Five" was in 5/4; "Blue Rondo à la Turk" -- a song inspired by Turkish folk music Brubeck heard while on State Department-sponsored tour -- shifts between 9/8 and 4/4; and the whole album continues the theme, shifting between waltz, double waltz and straight time with impossible ease.
To casual music listeners, such information can look like a fractions exam, but these songs upended the idea of what a jazz song could do. Despite fundamental structure changes (most jazz ticks along at 4/4), Brubeck still swung, and beautifully so.
Even at Brubeck's most inventive, he remained approachable. "Blue Rondo à la Turk" might have drawn a line in the sand as an album opener with its stuttering, almost manically paced beginning, but the song hardly sounds jagged as it gives way to a more familiar, blues-oriented section. The approach was new but never unwelcoming.
The proof is in the album's reception. Although Brubeck's label Columbia feared he might have gone too far out, the record became one of the bestselling jazz recordings of all time, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard pop charts, and "Take Five" became a Top 40 single.