From Nowhere to Everywhere
Harold Floyd "Tina" Brooks had only one album released
during his brief recording career, but what a debut it was. True Blue was mature
and fully formed, and here, nearly 50 years after its release, it is one of the most
revered Blue Note recordings. Brooks had already established his own unique keening sound
on the tenor sax by the time he started his recording career. At the time True Blue
hit the streets, Blue Note had used him as a sideman on a number of sessions headed by the
likes of Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Burrell, and Jimmy Smith, where he contributed not only
his sax but his writing skills as well. Yet somehow he slipped quickly and quietly into
oblivion. That's what happens to a tenor saxophonist whose demeanor was so reserved that
he barely pushed his label to get his albums out and whose drug habit often made him
unavailable for recording. If youd asked about Brooks just ten years ago, only jazz
cognoscenti could have told you who he was and what hed done.
In 1985 Mosaic Records released The Complete Blue Note Recordings of the Tina Brooks
Quintet [Mosaic Box Set MR4-106], which is now out of print but cost $90 when
available. This four-stereo-LP box set included everything Brooks had recorded under his
own name for Blue Note. All of a sudden people began to discover the extraordinary music
that Tina Brooks was capable of producing. Beginning in 1998, Blue Note released all four
albums worth of material on four stereo CDs: Minor Move, True Blue, Back
to the Tracks, and The Waiting Game. Blue Note also had a short-lived
vinyl-reissue program about that same time that included a stereo version of True Blue.
Finally, Classic Records -- in its ongoing Blue Note reissue series -- released True
Blue in mono and Back to the Tracks in stereo. Whew! For an artist who had not
been in the public eye during his lifetime this is a surfeit of riches.
Now a new addition has come along to swell the ranks of Tina Brooks recordings. We have
the Music Matters release of True Blue, a 45rpm double-LP set. Back to the
Tracks is scheduled for release in the coming year or so. With original mono copies of
True Blue selling in the four-figure range and the Mosaic set commanding three to
four times its original selling price, any new release of this music on vinyl is worth
considering. I have every release except the original (I may be a jazz completist, but I'm
not Warren Buffett), including the new Music Matters set, so Im in a position to
examine each of them and give you a nudge toward the best.
While Im sure the original sounds very good, its mono and all but unobtainable,
so Ill focus on the reissues. The pick for the best overall package should be easy
-- the Mosaic box contains all of the Tina Brooks Quintet Blue Note recordings.
Its one-stop shopping on 120-gram vinyl, and the music sounds pretty darned good.
Plus, the set includes a very informative booklet about Brooks himself and his music
discography. But it's out of print, and there's the time required to find it and the cost
of purchasing it to consider.
In contrast to the Mosaic set, the CDs are readily available, are cheap, and come with
informative booklets. But while they are OK sonically, allowing you to get the gist of
what Brooks was about, they don't equal the sound of the Mosaic vinyl, or come close.
Id stay away -- far, far away -- from the Blue Note-issued True Blue. Yes,
its on 180-gram vinyl and can still be found inexpensively, and its OK for
finding out if you like the music, but even the CD version beats it sonically -- and not
by a small margin. The Classic Records versions of True Blue and Back to the
Tracks are also still around and can be picked up for the price of any good audiophile
reissue. These sound worlds better than the Blue Note reissue, nudge out the Mosaic box,
and easily beat the CD versions too. Until recently they would have been my choice for
hearing this music at its sonic best.
But I can no longer recommend the Classic reissues as the albums to buy now that I've
seen and heard the Music Matters LPs. So this is how Tina Brooks sounded in Rudy
Van Gelders studio! All the life, air, and realness are here. Yes, the Music Matters
LPs are mastered at 45rpm, and that contributes to some of the sonic differences, but I
give the credit here to the people who had a hand in the remastering. The work of Joe
Harley, Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray make all the difference in the world, and they strut
their stuff on these Music Matters LPs. Brooks never sounded as fully realistic as he does
here -- theres space in abundance. A truly stunning reissue.
Suddenly Tina Brooks, who couldnt seem to buy a date during his all-too-brief
recording career, is all around us. His music is available on both vinyl and CD for prices
that aren't exorbitant, allowing more and more people to hear how significant he really
was. While it has taken 47 years since his final recording session for Tina Brooks to go
from nowhere to seemingly everywhere, its been worth the wait.