A record that could only have been made in the late '50s, 1959's Folk Jazz is a meeting of the two great collegiate crazes of the period, post-bebop modern jazz and traditional folk music. Clarinetist Bill Smith and a low-key piano-less trio ? Jim Hall on guitar, Monty Budwig on bass and the great Shelly Manne on drums ? take 10 songs from the folk tradition, strip them down to the bare essentials of melody and chord progressions and turn them into a Kind of Blue-like experiment in cool-toned modal jazz. Familiar standards like "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" (which opens with an extended unaccompanied solo by Smith that's a marvel of economy) are presented in entirely new and fresh settings. Perhaps the best of the lot is an extended meditation on the spiritual "Go Down Moses" that turns the song from a gospel shout to an intimate whisper. The 2003 CD reissue adds two tracks, alternate takes of "Reuben, Reuben" and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason