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An early student of Pablo Casals, Fred Katz is best known as the seminal jazz cellist in Chico Hamilton's breakthrough chamber jazz quintet of the 1950s. With a lengthy list of credits to his oeuvre, Katz went on to forge an unprecedented career path. From film score composer for Roger Corman (Little Shop of Horrors, A Bucket of Blood, The Wasp Woman) and one-time A&R man for Decca Records to gigs as arranger for such oddball concept records as Sidney Poitier Reads Plato, Harpo Marx's Harpo in Hi-Fi and Ken Nordine's Word Jazz series to composing an anti-Vietnam war solo cello piece entitled "The Soldier Puppet," Katz's career has been an unusual one.
1958's Folk Songs For Far Out Folk is an interesting detour for the visionary artist. Long treasured as an obscure gem by lounge music aficionados, it is easy to hear why this session is so well regarded. Even though Katz himself doesn't play on the record, it does feature his distinctive outsider sensibility.
Exploring folk music from three different cultures, American, Jewish and African, Katz assembled a different band to tackle each ethnicity. Flowing like a quality compilation of period exotica, the overall mood of the session is cohesive, rather than schizophrenic, even though the tonalities and rhythms change frequently.
Despite his radical Leftist politics, Katz's intricate adaptations of African folk songs are more akin to the moody exotica of Martin Denny and Les Baxter than the vitriol of Max Roach and Archie Shepp. Nonetheless, these cinematic hybrids of percolating percussion and mellifluous brass are joyous to behold in their contrapuntal glory. The two Hassidic inclusions fall into the sober, reflective side of the tradition, rich with counterpoint and neo-classical ambition, not the hyperkinetic strains of Klezmer prevalent today. The bulk of the album consists of intriguing arrangements of American folk songs, often delivered with a brisk bop lilt worthy of Herb Ellis or Lionel Hampton.
The mixed ensemble is a surprising combination of A-list artists. The American sessions feature pianist Johnny T. Williams (aka, John Williams, famous Hollywood film composer) and fleet fingered guitarist Billy Bean, while the Hebrew set adds the supple reeds of Buddy Collette and Paul Horn. The African tunes combine the bongo wizardry of Jack Costanzo (Stan Kenton) and the brassy fanfare of trumpeters Pete Candoli (Woody Herman, Stan Kenton) and Irving Goodman (Benny's brother).
An immensely enjoyable set, Folk Songs For Far Out Folk isn't as esoteric as its title might indicate, nor does it sound quaint and dated. A potent reminder of a time when anything seemed possible and the future was just around the corner, this album stands as proof that Katz was well ahead of his time.
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).