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Jackie McLean, one of jazz' most painful losses this past year, had an unmistakable sound: a slightly-sharp-of-center intonation, percussive phrasing and a boundless, thoughtful energy to lift you up out of any depressive state. These are two CDs of a period when he was at the height of his powers, previously issued on the Mosaic box set, but until now out of print.
It's Time (1964) opens with "Cancellation , a quintessential McLean piece, though written by trumpeter Charles Tolliver: quick popping rhythms with drum fills (from Roy Haynes) that lead into gutsy, extroverted modal improvisations emphasizing contextual interaction between all the musicians as McLean, pianist Herbie Hancock and Haynes throw rhythmic ideas back and forth with great speed and skill. "Das' Dat - a pretty straight blues in Bb - enters as if to remind listeners from where McLean's music comes. Hancock's solo and comping on this are revealing; he plays right inside the tune, with only the slightest references to the more exploratory playing elsewhere on the recording. In fact, Hancock's work is riveting throughout (interesting in that his playing on Miles Davis' E.S.P. and Plugged Nickel are a year in the future from It's Time!). Tolliver's "Revillot (his name backwards) is another launching pad for great improvisations. Bassist Cecil McBee solos briefly on the title track - his only solo on this recording, though he helps drive the entire session (bass players are the unsung hero of a burning session like this one).
Consequence (1965) opens with Lee Morgan's attractive "Bluesanova . Morgan solos first and demonstrates why he is still (though he died in 1972) a trumpet player that all jazz improvisers can learn from. Pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Herbie Lewis and drummer Billy Higgins groove strongly here and through the whole session. The title track (a McLean original) is a smoker from beginning to end with powerful solos from the leader, Morgan, Mabern and trades with Higgins. "My Old Flame , an old tune that has been covered by a lot of musicians including Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Peggy Lee and Miles, stands out here as a CD highlight with McLean playing the 'A sections' and Morgan playing the melody on the bridge working in an older mode of operation for an older tune. McLean solos for one complete form, Mabern takes two (stunning) 'A sections' and Morgan solos over the bridge with the rhythm section playing slightly stacatto quarter notes behind him before McLean takes it out on the last 'A section'. McLean's "Tolypso has, as one might imagine, a calypso feel which Harold Mabern plays with real authority (and why not? He played with jazz-calypso master Sonny Rollins).
It's Time! and Consequence are two McLean CDs that demonstrate why he will be so missed.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Cancellation; Das Dat; It's Time; Revillot; Snuff; Truth.
Personnel: Jackie McLean: alto saxophone; Charles Tolliver: trumpet; Herbie Hancock: piano; Cecil McBee: bass; Roy Haynes: drums
Tracks: Bluesanova; Consequence; My Old Flame; Tolypso; Slumber; Vernestune.
Personnel: Jackie McLean: alto saxophone; Lee Morgan: trumpet; Harold Mabern: piano; Herbie Lewis: bass; Billy Higgins: drums.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.