It is heartening to see an artist as obscure as tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks given the Rudy Van Gelder Edition treatment by Blue Note in this winning reissue. I have to admit surprise that Blue Note didn't marginalize Brooks, like Sam Rivers, in the label's limited-edition Connoisseur series. Frankly, Rivers is the more sophisticated artist with a potentially broader audience in my judgement, but Brooks has his lasting value also.
There is a terrifically pensive blues cry in every Brooks solo on this release that is mesmerizing. While he's often shadowed by trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, the two gracefully bring out some profoundly thoughtful improvising from each other. None of the five tunes (and two alternative takes) are exactly inspiring tunes. But Brooks packs a lot of raw emotionality and innovative musical craft into his solos. Although the liner notes makes much of the Sonny Rollins influence, I actually hear a lot more of a tone I'd connect to Booker Erwin, Ornette Coleman, or Brooks' companion in the Blue Note recording studio, Jackie McLean. Anyone who enjoyed the dramatic support Brooks gave McLean on Jackie's Bag should treasure this, the only album Brooks released under his name as leader during his lifetime. Brooks sounds like a desperately driven musician wanting something beyond the bop of 1960 and never quite making the breakthrough to freedom that McLean found through his association with Ornette Coleman. The rhythm section of drummer Art Taylor, bassist Sam Jones, and pianist Duke Jordan simply never push him that hard to explore new musical territory. I wonder who Brooks would have become had he worked with a drummer like Eddie Blackwell or Elvin Jones.
What True Blue gives generously is a full blooded musical portrait of a hard-working and distinctive sounding tenor man with a blue cry stuck in his throat and heart. It is an achievement to treasure.
Track Listing: Good Old Soul, Up Tight's Creek, Theme for Doris, True Blue, Miss Hazel, Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You
Personnel: Tina Brooks: tenor saxophone, Freddie Huvbbard: trumpet, Duke Jordan: piano, Sam Jones: bass, Art