In 1959, Fred Katz conducted a group of jazz musicians in an eclectic recording called “Folk Songs For Far Out Folk,” a jazz record that reworked traditional folk songs. The album recently was re-released by record label Reboot Stereophonic.
“Far Out Folk” was described by Reboot, whose goal is to recover “lost” music, as “a musical triptych of orchestrated jazz based on Hebraic, African and American folk songs.” Katz, who worked with many of the preeminent jazz musicians of the 1950s and 1960s, considers “Far Out Folk” to be the “pinnacle” of his work.
Katz was raised Jewish in Brooklyn, and studied both Zen Buddhism and Kabbalah. While he now considers himself a Deist, he still uses Hebraic influences in his music.
Snappy song names and spontaneous rhythms combine to make “Far Out Folk” an unpredictable, far-reaching, swinging amalgam. Because of the different styles, Katz used three different bands for the album and even went so far as to recruit beat poet Lawrence Lipton to compose poems for several of the folk songs.
The joy of the album comes from its variation. The songs “Old Paint” and “Foggy, Foggy Dew,” for example, are soft-toned American folk songs with a mysterious element. From the Hebraic tradition comes “Baal Shem Tov,” which Katz said emphasizes traditional sounds and “wraps hints of the sacred” through the use of flutes, violins and bass. “Rav’s Nigun,” another Hebraic folk song, uses wind instruments and relies on a fast-paced, staccato rhythm.
The African song “Manthi-ka” is an exciting mix of percussion, brass, xylophone and clapping that evokes exotic locales.
Not all the experimentation succeeded for me; some of the songs had moments that felt dissonant or cacophonous. Despite this, the album is likely to please anyone who likes their traditional African, Hebrew and American folk songs spiced up with the sounds and rhythms of jazz.