Although the late Jackie McLean might be best remembered for his more adventurous, improv-based recordings such as Destination Out!, Right Now!, Vertigo, etc., he made a major mark in the straight-ahead hard bop world with recordings that began in the early '50s and spanned his entire career. In fact, he made his debut as a sideman on the 1951 Prestige date Dig, led by Miles Davis. Five years later he received his first opportunity to lead his own group and his continuously evolving sound simply blossomed from there. This 1956 release, entitled 4, 5 and 6, was recently reissued, along with another session that occurred more than two decades later: the long out-of-print New Wine in Old Bottles.
Both releases give us brilliant examples of the McLean we've all grown to love over the years: an alto sax giant constantly surrounded by the finest jazz players. Although they're clearly from two different eras, these two discs work together as bookends to a period of McLean's career that began with the musician cutting his teeth on the bebop standards made famous by Parker, Powell and Monk and led to McLean's 'out' period chronicled on Blue Note.
As the title suggests, 4, 5 and 6 packs three different combos onto one disc that will certainly become essential listening for even the novice McLean aficionado. Three of the selections feature McLean leading the rhythm section of Mal Waldron (piano), Doug Watkins (bass) and Art Taylor (drums) on a handful of medium-tempo swingers and a ballad. Trumpeter Donald Byrd joins the proceedings for two original pieces, including the Kenny Drew-penned "Contour." And the session reaches a fever pitch on a boisterous rendition of Parker's classic "Confirmation," which brings in young tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley to expand the group to a sextet.
Where 4, 5 and 6 might serve as the perfect starting point for the uninitiated, New Wine in Old Bottles will definitely satisfy the palette of the more-seasoned McLean enthusiast. Those fans that might appreciate McLean's '50s recordings, but still find them somewhat tame for their taste should look no further than this release. The songs themselves might be straight-ahead, but take one look at the personnel and you'll soon realize that this isn't one of grandpa's Prestige CDs from the early '50s! Anchored by Tony Williams on drums, New Wine in Old Bottles pays tribute to McLean's early days as a player of standards, but in a slightly modal mood on this occasion.
Ron Carter (bass) and Hank Jones (piano) round out the quartet, which digs into three up-tempo numbers, including another fantastic version of "Confirmation," as well as two McLean originals. Although hearing McLean propelled by Williams' thunderous drumming on these tracks alone makes it worth the purchase, New Wine in Old Bottles could stand solely on the strength of the leader's sound on the three ballads. McLean is absolutely heartbreaking on "Bein' Green," which is what you might want to have on in the background if you ever feel compelled to screen your aforementioned grandpa's Super-8 home-movies that you found while cleaning out the attic. It will bring a Clark Griswold-esque tear to the eye of even the most-jaded McLean expert.
These two reissues definitely honor the legend that passed away almost two years ago and they'll look great on either side of your collection of McLean's more 'advanced' recordings.
Tracks and Personnel
4, 5 and 6 (RVG)
Tracks: Sentimental Journey; Why Was I Born?; Contour; Confirmation; When I Fall in Love; Abstraction.
Personnel: Jackie McLean: alto saxophone; Donald Byrd: trumpet; Hank Mobley: tenor saophone; Mal Waldron: piano; Doug Watkins: bass; Arthur Taylor: drums.
New Wine In Old Bottles
Tracks: Appointment in Ghana; It Never Entered My Mind; 'Round About Midnight; Little Melonae Again; Bein' Green; Confirmation.
Personnel: Jackie McLean: alto sax; Hank Jones: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Tony Williams: drums.