Reference: FSRCD 937
Bar code: 8427328609371
John Benson Brooks (1917-1999) had been on the scene for a long time before his 1956 album Folk Jazz, U.S.A. came out on the Vik label. From the early to mid-40’s he composed and wrote arrangements for the swing bands of Eddie De Lange, Les Brown, Tommy Dorsey and for the fine, but little-appreciated group of Randy Brooks.
With Folk Jazz U.S.A. he created a surprise success, proving that a mainly Anglo-American body of folk material could be revitalized in a modern jazz idiom with Afro-American roots. The way Brooks integrated soloists —Zoot Sims on alto, Al Cohn on baritone, and Nick Travis on trumpet— and backgrounds is consistently impressive. Also noticeable are the pianistic contributions of Brooks, and the invaluable assistance of guitarist Barry Galbraith, especially in the slow tempos.
Brooks’ second jazz recording, Alabama Concerto, is an extended work recorded in 1958, based on folk themes collected in Alabama by Harold Courlander and blended with jazz virtuosity and classical composition. Brooks used them as a concerto, in which written themes, written solos, and improvised solos alternate, executed by the warm approach of two story-telling soloists such as Cannonball Adderley on alto and Art Farmer on trumpet, and by the excellent rhythm section.
These two memorable albums of remarkable musicianship —in both the collective and individual sense— are part of Brooks’ legacy and contribution to the evolution of jazz.
"John Benson Brooks made his name for composing tunes and writing charts for the likes of Les Brown and Tommy Dorsey. The pianist also released a pair of ambitious albums in the late 50s, one taking American folk tunes and giving them a jazz sensibility , and the other a collection of themes from a trip by Harold Courlander in Alabama, mixing it with classical muses as well. The selection of musicians for these two albums is exemplary , and it’s fascinating to hear the likes of Zoot Sims/ts, Al Cohn/bs, Barry Galbraith/g, Osie Johnson/dr, Milt Hinton/b, Nick Travis-Art Farmer/tp and Cannonball Adderley/as in a different setting.
The Folk Jazz, U.S.A. session includes boppy material such as “Saro Jane” and”Betsy” with a polyphonic “The New Saints” and a rich “Black Is the Color.” Travis glows on “Wayfarn’ Stranger” and Galbraith is folksy on ”Shenandoah.”
For the 1958 Alabama Concerto, Adderley is warm on “ The Henry Jones Story” as well as the “Blues For Christmas.” The pieces are highly arranged but the horns produce some rich themes on “Trampin” and “Job’s Red Wagon.” An intriguing side bar for these West Coast swingers."
George W. Harris (December 4, 2017)
"While jazz has (more or less) comfortably negotiated with rock, with Latin dance forms and even with classical composition, its relations with Anglo-American folk have been unpredictable and uneven in quality. Jimmy Giuffre was dabbling in similar areas at around the same time, but Brooks probably went further than anyone in trying to combine folk-song material with improvisation.
The success of both of these projects has a great deal to do, inevitably, with the quality of the players involved. Sims takes to Brooks’s arrangements on Folk Jazz U.S.A. with obvious relish, and both Art Farmer and Cannonball buy delightedly into the concept of Alabama Concerto, which has the familiar structure of themes, ritornelliand improvised cadenzas.
It’s all slightly dry and a little bit passionless, which is accurate enough for a certain brand of ethnomusicology (Harold Courlander collected the Alabama material) but perhaps a little lacking in oomph. The absence of drums reinforces an impression of chamber jazz, but Brooks has a subtle grasp of rhythm and it takes a moment to appreciate how effective he is in bringing swing to some outwardly unswinging melodies. Less than a masterpiece, but more than a curiosity, and a nice way to celebrate JBB’s centenary year."
Brian Morton (November, 2017)
Jazz Jourbal Magazine