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Tina Brooks: Back to the Tracks

Many readers will realize that there is a Connection connection linking Freddie Redd, Jackie McLean, and Tina Brooks. Shirley Clarke’s production of the Jack Gelber play, which remains, unfortunately, the truest jazz-related movie, featured a Redd quartet with Jackie among the addicts waiting for the man, and there is an existential edge to the music in the movie that not even the Blue Note record of the material fully conveys. Evidently anxious to stay in character after the filming ended, Redd re-recorded the music under Howard McGee’s name with a group that included Brooks for another label, a brilliant maneuver that cost him his Blue Note contract. We can be thankful that Freddie and Jackie survived, but shouldn’t dwell on the idea that a relatively small percentage of today’s scene is blighted by heroin. All that that really indicates is that young men of the inner city no longer have jazz.

One cannot help hearing more depth in these men’s work after seeing The Connection, which may be a reason why Shades of Redd and the painfully titled Back to the Tracks seem to me to be such poignantly beautiful records. A front line of Tina and Jackie backed by Redd, Paul Chambers and Louis Hayes is a great recipe in any case, and Shades features the two hornmen in top form over Redd’s quirky writing, comping, and soloing. He was certainly his own man, comparable to Horace Silver in how he forged a modern style that owes less to the then-predominant Powell-esque approach and more to swing and even gospel. Chambers is other-worldly on both of these dates, seeming somehow to both lead and perfectly follow the proceedings at every moment. Hayes is all ears and taste.

While Jackie was the practically-uncontested standard for hard-bop alto, Brooks was lost in the crowd of great tenors a step behind Rollins and Coltrane-Griffin, Mobley, Jordan, Ervin, Land, and maybe a dozen others. While none of these men really get due notice, Brooks was particularly neglected. He recorded rarely and most of what he did was unreleased in his lifetime. Tracks is an excellent date, not as great as his Tina Blue as an introduction but rewarding for Brooks’ wonderful tone, unique conception, and solid writing. Blue Mitchell is in fine form and Kenny Drew sounds particularly good, both comping and soloing. It has been argued that Art Taylor is the unsung giant of hard bop drummers and his amazing work here makes the case convincingly. He and Chambers together are a dream.

Originally Published