Tina Brooks: Back To The Tracks

Matt Marshall By

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Tina Brooks
Back To The Tracks
Blue Note / Music Matters
2009 (1985)

Although probably not the intention, Back To The Tracks appropriately labels saxophonist Tina Brooks' mode of operation during the 1960 Blue Note sessions that would produce this album. Going unreleased until Mosaic put it out in 1985 (the result of one of those head-shakingly dismissive or sad, number-crunching decisions seemingly so common in Blue Note's history), the record spins on the proven rails of hard bop construction. Three of the five tunes follow a pattern of theme/sax solo/trumpet solo/piano solo/theme. Although the ballad standard "For Heaven's Sake" opens with Kenny Drew's piano and leaves Brooks to handle the melody alone. And "Street Singer," an outtake from Jackie McLean's Jackie's Bag (Blue Note, 1960) sessions, adds slots in the solo rotation for McLean's alto sax and Paul Chambers' bass.

To be sure, such predictable solo rounds are far from unheard of, but the formula may have accounted, at least in part, for Blue Note's decision to leave the album in the can. After the Mosaic release, the album did eventually appear on CD and is currently available as a CD import and a 33-1/3-rpm mono LP. But thankfully, Music Matters has chosen to include it as part of its 45-rpm vinyl reissue program (with 45-rpm necessitating a two-disc format). For not only does the musicianship overcome what might seem a staid musical concept, it also brings to light (or, more precisely, to sound) a fabulous "lost" work by a musician who recorded and lived for far too brief a period (born in 1932, Brooks died in 1974).

Three of the album's tunes are Brooks originals. They are based on simple, repetitive passages in the hard bop mode—a modernist form that had no qualms broadcasting itself as a soloist's jungle gym—and contain all the power of Brooks' fabulous and similarly structured numbers on True Blue (Blue Note, 1960). Brooks has a light, playful sound on most of the pieces on Back To The Tracks. His tone courses rounded hills and valleys that usually lead into sharper bop peaks with slashing angles. Shying away from the one-note R&B squawks fired at times on True Blue, Brooks' playing here is a bit more relaxed and soulful, especially on "Street Singer" and "For Heaven's Sake," the latter finding the saxophonist swooning with a deep, reedy timbre.

Trumpeter Blue Mitchell, a trusty sideman who gained lesser fame up-front, largely follows Brooks' lead, fashioning bright, metal statements or antagonistic growls that echo the saxophonist's moods. The reliable Drew, a hard bop pianist perhaps best known for his work on John Coltrane's Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957), wields a light yet confident touch in tapping out quick, hard-swinging solos from the stereo's "center channel." His harmonic solo on "For Heaven's Sake" employs classical overlays, producing a desperate yearning effect in front of Paul Chambers' dipping bass. The excellent Chambers is afforded a brief moment in the sun near the close of "Street Singer," a tune he transforms with nice, muddy lines. (Again, it is notable that the bassist was given solo light only on the McLean-led track.) Drummer Art Taylor never emerges from the rear. But his percussive support is solid throughout and he comes on with a strong, varied attack on the exotic closer "The Ruby And The Pearl."

The stereo sound of this vinyl reissue is impeccable. Play it next to the True Blue CD and you'll hear the difference—a warm, live tone that sacrifices none of the stereo separation nor chisels it into a series of conjoined instrumental cubicles; the group dynamic is never lost. You can almost smell the smoke swirling up from a cigarette abandoned in an ashtray at the Van Gelder Studio. The year is 1960 and the music of an extremely talented young saxophonist is blowing with all the promise of a bright future.

Tracks: Disc 1: Back To The Tracks; Street Singer. Disc 2: The Blues and I; For Heavens Sake; The Ruby And The Pearl.

Personnel: Blue Mitchell, trumpet; Jackie McLean, alto saxophone; Tina Brooks, tenor saxophone; Kenny Drew, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Art Taylor, drums.

Year Released: 2009 | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream

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