Tina Brooks – True Blue (1960)

If you have never heard the albums of Tina Brooks then you have hidden gems awaiting you whose secrets will reveal themselves gradually and alluringly. Each of his four sessions as leader are full of spirited playing and his compositions are wonderful melodic frameworks crammed with inventive harmony, internal nuance and drive. Prepare to be utterly confounded also because the cruel fact is that Blue Note Records shelved all but one of these albums indefinitely. They were ultimately destined never to be released during his lifetime, the exception being True Blue, which was not promoted by the label at all due to its release coinciding with Freddie Hubbard’s more marketable (but inferior, in my opinion) debut Open Sesame, these two LPs featuring both Brooks and Hubbard. Tina Brooks was apparently a sensitive and quietly spoken man and may not have impressed upon the Blue Note owners Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff his commercial saleability, but his music is consistently strong and like all Blue Note recordings the performances are thoroughly rehearsed. There is no filler here as the tunes are all studded with surprising hooks and the soloing is top shelf throughout. He was fond of minor keys and Latin-esque rhythms and flavourings (not bossa-nova, thankfully), providing variety and aeration to his albums. His arrangements for horns created a wide-screen effect that lent his ballads a yearning quality. One of many heroin addicts on the jazz scene at the time, it is likely he became embittered and defeated, relying more heavily on heroin to smooth the edges of his despondency aware that the right time for his excellent recordings to be released had probably passed and that he was powerless to make anything happen to alter that reality. He never recorded again after 1961 and played sparingly until his death in 1974 at age 42. A box-set of all his Blue Note recordings emerged in 1985 through the Mosaic imprint, and Blue Note later released all his albums individually establishing a large groundswell of interest and appreciation for his talents. That Tina Brooks is now highly regarded in no way diminishes the truth that it is one of the tragedies of jazz history that a man who made such vital music could be reduced to barely a whisper by the end of his life.

 

 

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