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Cellist and composer Fred Katz is an extraordinary character. He studied cello with Pablo Casals, introduced the cello to the jazz world as a member in the Chico Hamilton Quartet and recorded solo jazz albums. He's also inspired and influenced many musicians, such as another forward-thinking cellist, Fred Lonberg-Holm, who dedicated his A Valentine for Fred Katz, (Atavistic, 2002) to the visionary artist.
A multi-disciplinary radical, Katz composed soundtracks (most noteworthy is 1960's Little Shop of Horrors), accompanied actor Sidney Poitier while he was reading Plato, played with Harpo Marx, composed an anti-Vietnam war piece and taught jazz in a Benedictine monastery. Now, the 86 year-old Jewish-born Katz, son of a Communist father who was a self-taught Kabbalist, follows Zen Buddhism philosophy.
Folk Songs for Far Out Folks, originally planned by Warner Brothers to be an album about actress Brigitte Bardot, is a musical triptych recorded in 1968; an attempt to find commonalities in Hebraic, African and American folk songs. Katz orchestrated nine songs for a modern jazz ensemble, as a statement about the humanism in the innovative jazz culture. For this project he chose many 1950s jazz stalwarts, including John Williams (later known as a Hollywood film composer), a young Paul Horn and Irving Goodman, brother of Benny. Katz chose the Hebraic Hasidic nigunim because of his interest in mysterious Kabbalistic texts. The American songs symbolize protest, and in the African ones Katz identified his belief in the oneness of man. Beat poet Lawrence Lipton contributes three beautiful poems, each representing one of the three cultures, for the original liner notes.
Almost forty years later these innocent recordings sound like a road map for many generations of composers, most of them with an affinity for cinematic textures, such as film composer Danny Elfman and Williams. One can imagine the action-fueled scenes that are accompanied by conga and vibes runs on songs like the African "Mate'ka" and "Manthi-ki"; the tension episodes, orchestrated for congas, trumpets and vibes on "Chili'lo"; the suspended feeling created by the vibes of Gene Estes on "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"; and the elegant swing of "Old Paint," so typical of the glamorous lifestyle of the West Coast.
The playful bluesy interplay on "Foggy, Foggy Dew" suggests a peaceful and cohesive closure to this musical journey. All these ingredients are turned into essentials of any musical vocabulary of modern composers for films. The playful arrangement for flutes and clarinets on "Rav's Nign" or the gentle chamber-like arrangement for "Baal Shem Tov" could fit into later innovative experiments in Jewish music, as an integral part of the new revival of this music almost thirty years later: A charming and relevant reminder of the power of music and how it unites peoples and culture.
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: Fred 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).