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Cellist Fred Katz has indeed led a fascinating life. His primary contribution to jazz music was as cellist for the influential Chico Hamilton Quartet of the mid-to-late 1950s. Katz, who studied under Pablo Casals, would leave Hamilton and never return to jazz again. He did release a handful of albums under his own name, and perhaps this 1959 session provides the biggest mystery.
A longtime Zen Buddhist, Katz wanted find some commonality between African, Hebrew and folk music. Hand-picking the individual players for each session and providing the arrangements, Katz doesn't group the songs together by ethnicity, so that they follow each other throughout the album.
Katz has chosen an interesting concept. For the three African compositions, there is a great emphasis on rhythm and percussion, featuring percussionist Jack Costanzo, who recorded frequently circa 1950 for Stan Kenton and Nat King Cole on Capitol. These compositions also feature a tightly arranged texture, not unlike Dizzy Gillespie's Afro/Cuban work, but are more complex in their harmonies. Much of the music features trombone and trumpets along with the percussion, specifically trumpeters Pete Candoli, Don Fagerquist and Irving Goodman.
Three Hebrew tunes are vaguely reminiscent of folk melodies, with two more closely reflecting Kabalism. On "Baal Shem Tov," flute solos are heard from Buddy Collette (one of Katz's colleagues from the Hamilton group) and, lurking not too far away, Paul Horn. On this track, as well as "Rav's Nigun," Katz's arrangements reference Third Stream music and some flashes of dissonance.
The songs with the most obvious link to folk music are played with great swing, including "Old Paint," which features a fast-paced Gene Estes vibes solo and Billy Bean on guitar. The pianist is none other than Johnny T. Williams who became John Williams, film composer deluxe and currently leading the Boston Pops Orchestra. The other folk songs performed here are "Foggy, Foggy Dew" and "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child."
Considering the time and place of the original release, Folk Songs For Far Out Folk seems a further intellectual rationalization of jazz music in keeping with the temper of the times. Suggesting a link between these three music provides some continuity with Katz's praactice as a Zen Buddhist then and now, nearly fifty years later. In addition, the resurgence of his interest in the Kabbalah provides more fuel for the fire. The album was bypassed by the masses back then, but could stimulate some rather lively discussion in the new millennium.
Track Listing: Mate'ka; Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child; Been In The Pen So Long; Chili'lo (Lament); Rav's Nigun; Old paint; Manthi-Ki; Baal Shem Tov; Foggy, Foggy Dew.
Personnel: AFred Katz: conductor, arranger; Gene Estes: vibes, percussion (2, 3, 6, 9); Billy Bean: guitar (2, 3, 6, 9); Johnny T. Williams: piano (2, 3, 6, 9); Mel Pollen: bass (2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9); Jerry Williams: drums (2, 3, 6, 9); Justin Gordon: bassoon and bass clarinet (5, 8); Paul Horn: flute and alto saxophone (5, 8); Buddy Colette: flute (5, 8); Jules Jacobs: oboe and clarinet (5, 8); George Smith: clarinet (5, 8); Pete Candoli: trumpet (1, 4, 7); Irvin: Goodman: trumpet (1, 4, 7), Don Fagerquist: trumpet (1, 4, 7); George Roberts: trombone (1, 4, 7); Harry Betts: trombone (1, 4, 7); Bob Enevoldsen: trombone (1, 4, 7); Larry Bunker: percussion (1, 4, 7); Jack Costanzo: percussion (1, 4, 7); Carlos Mejia: percussion (1, 4, 7); Lou Singer: percussion (1, 4, 7).